ARI curriculum corrdinator Yukiko Oyanagi gave a report of the 2013 Rural Leaders Training at the commencement service last December.
First of all, I am deeply thankful for God’s abundant blessings and guidance throughout our 2013 Rural Leaders Training Program at the Asian Rural Institute. I am also grateful that, thanks to the support and cooperation of many friends and supporters, we were able to complete this year’s training program and send out 31 new graduates of sixteen nationalities.
A new learning environment
Two years and nine months have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake. By your great support, we have recovered from the damage from the disaster. This is the first year in which we have been able to use the new Koinonia and Classroom building from the start of the training. And at the middle of the training, the new men’s dorm and pig pen were completed. The training environment improved a lot.
When I talk with our Participants, I realize that this new environment is the image that they have of ARI. People who have known ARI for longer will surely be struck by the big changes, but for 2013 Participants this is just “natural.” We staff still feel the loss and pain from the memory of the disaster, but at the same time we are grateful and proud that we can offer the best best possible learning environment for the participants.
In 2013, ARI celebrated its 40th anniversary. This was a great and unique learning opportunity for the participants, because over fifty graduates came to ARI. Participants shared, discussed and thought together with graduates how they might apply their learning of ARI to their community. They learned from the successes and failures of the graduates, and moreover enjoyed spending time with them. Among all 1241 graduates, this year’s 31 participants are the only ones to enjoy such a privilege.
We are always blessed with participants who are serious about learning, but this year we found some participants who were serious about “everything,” not only training and farming, but even about music and dance performances. Without the great cooperation of this year’s Participants, it would have been impossible for make our 40th anniversary such a success. They managed many activities in collaboration with supporters, they facilitated discussions and they entertained the people. Each graduate had a “caretaker” participant, who took care of them from the time of their arrival, oriented and guided them throughout their stay at ARI. And this gave to participants a precious learning opportunity from the graduates. For a whole week, not only in the class and at the symposium, but in every activity they shared and discussed a lot.
Soon after that came the Harvest Thanksgiving Celebration. This, too, succeeded by the leadership of Participants. Especially the Coordinator and Chairperson of each organizing committee experienced “big learnings” as a leader. We staff were able to rely on their leadership, too.
Self-sufficiency in practice
For nine months, 2061 curriculum hours, participants learned over sixty topics, from which they were challenged to find what they can do for their community. In 2011, we could not achieve self-sufficiency. This year, we grew seventy kinds of vegetables and harvested over 4300 kg of field produce. Participants grew vegetables in their group fields, took care of livestock, and cooked their products for our daily meals. At the same time, they learned about leadership in Foodlife Work. They came to understand that the farm and the kitchen are places where they can practice leadership, which they study in the class.
One participant, during her Morning Gathering, shared about her learning at ARI in this way: “There is a river in front of us. The river is poverty, lack of education, laziness and selfishness. NGOs come to help us. They carry us across the river. But they do not teach us how to cross on our own. So after they go back, we cannot cross the river again. But ARI is different. What we learned at ARI is how to cross the river.” Another participant sang a song in her final oral presentation: “You gave me power! ARI gave me power!”
Surely they learned a lot. Servant leadership, knowledge and practice of organic farming, the dangers of chemicals, participatory learning and action, livestock, natural farming, agroforestry, 3-D farming, permaculture, pollution issues, development issues, localization, biogas and so on. But what we most wanted them to learn is the principal of local resources; that they can go forward by their own power, which is already present in their own communities. Rural leaders can find what they need in their community, and should encourage people and work/live together with them. Participants learn this philosophy, and how to serve each other, through class, farm work, cooking and every aspect of daily life.
Dreams and Responsibilities
Now nine months have passed, and the participants are sitting in front of you as new graduates. They look a little nervous, not only because they are in front of you, but also because hundreds of people are waiting for them in their community. Each one of them feels big responsibility toward those people. Each one of them learned for their people. Their dream is much bigger than the number of hours spent in class (2061 hours), or kilometers traveled on the study tour(5000km) or weight gathered in our harvest (4300kg).
Many people helped their training; Organic farmers, organizations, special lecturers, churches, schools, kindergartens, host families and so on. On behalf of the participants, I wish to express the deep appreciation we all feel toward the people who supported and helped us to make this training possible. Thanks to you, today’s graduating class has learned a lot. They are going to bring back to their communities the learning that was given by you and, someday, it will bear fruits in the future. I hope and I pray for a bright future, for the people in each of their communities.