Plan Japan: Listening to Children's Voices in Developing the Communities of Tomorrow

2014.07.31 Our Partners

Plan Japan, another of our recipient organizations in India, is an international NGO that works on community development while listening to what children have to say. In this interview, we spoke with Yuko Tachibana, person in charge of the eco-education project that sparked our collaboration. (Date of interview: May 20, 2014)


Improve communities and bring up future leaders by listening to children

Okuda: What kind of activities is Plan Japan involved in?

Tachibana: Plan Japan is a member of the international NGO Plan, which works in 50 developing countries to make lives better for people in poor regions, particularly rural villages and slums. In any communities, local issues are intertwined in complex ways but Plan makes positive changes by focusing on eight areas: education, health, sexual health, economic security, water and sanitation, child protection, child participation, and emergencies.


Okuda: Do the children also participate in community development?

Tachibana: Yes, that is what makes us unique. Children aren't simply the recipients of support. There are many things that can only be seen through a child's eyes and they have much to say about the issues around them.
This is why we pay serious attention to their views and opinions while exchanging thoughts with adults on how issues can be solved.

Okuda: Because children are the future of the community, right?

Tachibana: Exactly. By thinking about issues in their community and participating in the decision making process from early on, they foster the skills to lead their community as adults. Additionally, children who grow up learning how to speak their mind will give the same opportunities to their children when they become parents; which makes these activities sustainable.


Okuda: On my observation tour, I was very impressed by how your activities are based on a robust relationship between Plan India, a local NGO, and the local people. What is Plan Japan's relationship with Plan India?

Tachibana: Plan India oversees the implementation and management of local projects while Plan Japan provides financial support and keeps in close contact with Plan India to monitor the projects from here in Japan. Also, Indian law requires international NGOs to work with local NGOs. In promoting the project, we partnered with local organizations that have strengths in tackling environmental issues and improving access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.


Collaboration sparked by environmental education that combines knowledge with practice

Okuda: Our first contact with Plan Japan was when we approached you to consider whether our environmental educational materials on climate change could be introduced to children living in India's rural areas.

Tachibana: Yes, environmental education was already introduced in schools in India, but there was a need for programs that focus a bit more on local issues and solutions. That's when in addition to existing material on climate change, we started working with Panasonic in co-developing educational material on water, sanitation, and waste management, and creating programs that combine learning with practice. For example, we build and repair water supply systems at schools and greening activities as a place to put classroom knowledge into practice. In some cases, participants have started their own kitchen gardens and succeeded in improving their health or family finances with the additional income.


Environmental education for children and adults


Educational materials

Okuda: It's great to hear that. With environmental education, the key is in how people can take the knowledge acquired through text books and link that to practical activities rooted in the community. And our past work together was the context for our donation of compact solar lights in March 2013.

Tachibana: The compact solar lights were distributed to particularly poor families living in the eight villages where our eco-education projects take place. And when trainings are offered after dark, we ask participants to bring the lights from home to the venues.


Compact solar lights in use during the night-time program

Improved learning efficiency among children. Lights also useful for fishnet maintenance

Okuda: How do you select the households to receive the compact solar lights?

Tachibana: We distribute them to families with income below the poverty line as determined by the Indian government and without access to electricity. Among them, households with girls and disabled children are given priority.

Okuda: How are the compact solar lights used in each home?

Tachibana: Children use them when studying, and mothers use them when cooking and sewing. For children, being able to study at night has been a major change, and we have heard that children can now finish their homework much faster. Additionally, the project target area, Visakhapatnam in the state of Andhra Pradesh in southeastern India, is near the ocean, and the lights help fishermen take care of their nets.


Compact solar lights help for homework and eating.

Okuda: In March last year, we visited the homes at night. We were delighted to see children studying hard for their final exams by the light of the compact solar lights.

Tachibana: In India, students could be held back a year even in elementary school depending on their performance, so every year, children study especially harder around this time. This past March, we received new solar lanterns which are brighter than the past compact solar lights. Thanks to this, I think that children can now read even when the light is set to the lowest of the three brightness levels.

Okuda: That's right. They have been improved to light up the entire room. A hook also makes it possible to hang from the ceiling. For future improvements, we would like to continue our feedback to the development team on how the lanterns are used locally. I also hope you will continue sending us any requests that you may have.

Tachibana: Thank you.

Okuda: Have you been considering new ways of using the solar lanterns?

Tachibana: Yes. In our second year, we are moving forward with new initiatives like distributing the solar lanterns to child welfare facilities so that children can study at night, or to village farmer clubs and self-help groups to be used during meetings.


Solar lantern (left) and compact solar light (right)

Okuda: How exciting! Lastly, please tell us if you have any requests.

Tachibana: Panasonic is a major company known throughout the world. Having our collaboration introduced through such a company is a true blessing for us in terms of heightening our presence. We have also received financial support for the eco-education projects and furthermore, these wonderful solar lanterns to use in this project, which are bound to produce a synergy effect across the entire project. We definitely like you to continue with these kinds of social contributions.
In improving and resolving social issues in developing countries, we believe it is very meaningful for companies with the financial and technical capabilities to work together with NGOs with grass-roots networks and experiences in community development in those countries. Through our partnership with Panasonic, we at Plan Japan would like to make further improvements in areas where we are working. I hope that you'll contact us when anything comes up.

Okuda: Thank you. And we also look forward to various activities with you in the future.