Masaru Yamazaki

Name: Masaru Yamazaki
ARI Name: Masaru
Year at ARI: 1998, 1999 (as Graduate Intern)
Country: Japan
Organization: Japan International Volunteer Center (JVC)
Work Area: Cambodia

“Learning How to Help”

Equipped with two years of training in organic farming at ARI and a great deal of enthusiasm to make a positive difference in the lives of people in developing countries, Masaru Yamazaki headed to Cambodia with an NGO focused on empowering rural women. He had stayed at ARI an additional year to participate in its Graduate Intern program, which is specially offered to Japanese graduates to provide them with additional agricultural experience. In Cambodia his project was to teach women in the villages how to grow vegetables. What happened was that, “actually, they taught me,” he admits. His many farming attempts failed one after the other due to the environment being so different frm what he was used to. In the end, the teacher became the student.

While at university in Japan, Masaru had begun to take an interest in the world outside of his country. His major was International Relations, but sitting in lectures on politics and economics wasn’t satisfying. “I thought I would like to see the real world, learn what is happening,” he recalls, so he decided to go to Pakistan. Travelling on his own, with almost no English, in a land of unpredictable insecurity, he found himself moved by the kindness of people. Though poor, they took him into their homes, cared for him when he was sick, and gave him food – even though when he looked into the faces of their children, he could see they were hungry. He began to think, “If I like to work in other countries, I need to produce some food by myself,” so as not to depend on the meager resources of others – a realization that eventually led him to ARI and then on to Cambodia.

At the end of his two-year project in Cambodia, he decided to extend his stay. He felt that his mission had not been completed, reflecting, “They taught me a lot, but I did nothing for them.” In these additional years, he gradually discovered that the servant leadership skills he had been exposed to at ARI proved to be powerful tools in his work. He strove to inspire people as a leader who does, rather than a leader who only talks. At ARI he had been particularly inspired by the words of one of his fellow participants from Indonesia. One weekend he found her cleaning the pigpens in her free time. She told him, “A leader should do what others don’t want to do.”

Exploring this new understanding of leadership, Masaru spent the next ten years in Cambodia, during which time he met a young woman who became his wife. He got involved in an NGO called Japan International Volunteer Center (JVC) for which he now serves as country coordinator. He and his staff of 20 train farmers in ecological ways of growing rice, vegetables, and different kinds of fruit. They also teach techniques for making tea and pickles for preservation and value addition. Education in environmental care and forest management are provided for village youth.

Living in community and sharing life with people across different cultures were also valuable ARI lessons for Masaru. The simple act of talking, taking the time to sit down and converse with villagers at length, went a long way toward building trust. In addition, he found it deeply important to share about himself – to let the community understand who he was as a young Japanese man and why he had come to Cambodia. The relationships that developed out of such open communication formed the foundations of succcessful community development work. “I really tried to do like what I learned at ARI,” states Masaru, “so I don’t just manage the people, the Cambodian people, other staff, but I always do with them, think with them … I always go with them to village and talk with them…and discuss with them.” In this way, he has discovered how to make that positive difference.

(From “Rural Leaders – The Work and Community Impact of Graduates of the Asian Rural Institute“)