An interview with Mr. Shiyu Naito and Ms. Minami Tsuchiya from NPO AYINA
One of the things the pandemic has taught us is that we can contribute to our communities wherever we are. It has taught us to utilize technology to communicate and work together to bring change in our communities. In this article I will introduce two organizations (AYINA & Pendo Initiative) that are positively contributing to the community in Japan and Africa. Although they seem to have different targets and missions, there is something special and common between them. They are both motivated to help rural areas in Africa and Japan realize their potential and bring development. We had an interview with Mr. Naito and Ms. Tsuchiya, two prominent members of AYINA, to hear why they are doing what they do, and why rural areas. Before going into the details of the interview, let me briefly introduce the two organizations.
AYINA is an organization founded in 2013 by Zomahoun Surrele, a graduate student at Yamagata University Graduate School. The organization has two visions: the first one is Africa by Africans, which contributes to the promotion of social education by conducting projects related to education that promotes leadership and independence for young people in Africa. One example of activities under Africa by African is the Benin yogurt project, which is local production of yogurt and a practical project of business by local people. AYINA supports local people through organizing crowdfunding activities. The second vision is to contribute to international cooperation by conducting a wide range of domestic cultural exchange projects between Africa and Japan. Some of the activities done under this vision include Japan and Africa homestay programs. The program helps to experience food, clothing, and shelter with local families, gain a deeper understanding of the country through various activities, and promote international cooperation.
Pendo Initiative is an organization founded in 2020 by two African students studying in Japan. The organization aims to support high school students in Africa with career information that will help them to make informed career decisions. The motivation behind the founding of this organization is the personal experiences of the founders. They both did not receive needed career guidance when they were in high school, which somehow impacted their career decisions. Through working together with other interested friends, they managed to start this organization so that other high school students in Africa would not go through the same experience. Currently, Pendo is running a pilot project at Mogotio Girls High School in Kenya. With the help of organizations like AYINA, Pendo Initiative is also holding online events for fundraising and promoting discussion of some social issues in Africa.
AYINA Interview (Africa by Africans)
What motivates AYINA to pursue their vision of promoting Africa by Africans?
When I went to Benin, I found that there is a potential for local people to make things by themselves and sell it in their communities rather than importing from other countries, but the system is not working well to support them. If you go to a supermarket in Benin, you will find that nearly everything is imported from France and other European countries. Even simple things like yogurt that people eat on a daily basis is imported from abroad. To help locals be independent, AYINA is supporting a yogurt production project by local people in Benin through organizing crowdfunding activities. We believe that Africans can create a continent they want by themselves with just a little help. When I was in South America in Bolivia, there was a broken railroad and train graveyard, which I thought was not sustainable. The train was imported from abroad and after it broke down it became a problem for local people who did not know what to do about it.
Personally, I feel that the Japanese countryside regions such as the Tohoku region have the same potential of making things locally and creating their own communities as most of African local communities. However, the resources are not utilized to their full potential compared to places like Tokyo where there are many local places that make things and sell them locally.
I would like to make regional areas in both Japan and Africa more attractive. Personally, I would like to promote local areas for the local people. That is why we are doing Africa by Africans activities.
In 2013, I went to Rwanda as a JICA volunteer. There I was surprised to see how wide the gap was between the city and rural areas. Also, I thought there were no rich people there because all the companies in the central city are owned by foreigners who are making more profit than the locals. Sadly enough foreigners are always on top and Rwandans are on the bottom, which is more like indirect colonialism. However, there are wonderful people with wonderful ideas in their own country, but the only problem is that they lack money and connections to make their wonderful ideas come true to imitate rich role models.
Having seen the situation in Rwanda, I decided to start activities that would help Africans to have access to resources and connections that would be useful to them. As AYINA, we would like to help these young people from Africa with opportunities to go abroad like in Japan where they can have access to resources, technologies, and help them with crowdfunding so that when they go back to their countries they can start businesses. We would like to create an economic circle supported by local people. Because the economic system supported by the foreigners is not stable - foreigners can leave the country at any time if there is a disaster or war, but local people are likely to stay and help to develop their countries.
Benin Yogurt project
What motivated you to take action to fulfil the mission of Africa by Africans?
Mr. Naito: I went to Rwanda as a JICA volunteer for two years and lived with local people. Instead of focusing on work only, I could interact with local people and hang around in the streets, which helped me to understand their situation. People there made me feel at home - so much so that I almost forgot that I was Japanese. Before I knew it, half a year had passed. I felt like I was Rwandan because of how people there treated me. Therefore, I felt that I needed to give back to this community that welcomed me. It would be great if the situation in Rwanda can be changed, and allow local people to take control of the economic activities. That is the reason why I decided to take action.
Ms. Tsuchiya: I have only been to Africa for four months, but I would like to link my experience in Africa to my experiences in Tohoku. I personally think that the situation in Africa is similar to the situation in Tohoku. Some people might say that there are many people suffering in Japan too, so why do I want to support people in Africa? But I think that the place does not matter that much. I would like to connect these two places that have similar situations and support them. That is what motivates me to take action.
Japan homestay program
It is motivating as Africans to hear how people like Tsuchiya-san and Naito-san are committed to help us develop our continent. As young Africans we started the Pendo initiative to help high school students realize potential within themselves through providing them quality career information which is missing in most high schools in Africa. Being able to collaborate with AYINA has helped us realize how much we can contribute to our communities and the opportunities we have been neglecting.
As a Pendo Initiative, we will continue to work hard in collaboration with other organizations to scale up development in African communities. After the pilot project in Kenya, we will be collaborating with high schools in the countryside to help students develop and strengthen their confidence in their career path and ability to recognize opportunities within their communities. We would like to expand AYINA’s mission, Africa by Africans.
As the start of our collaborative activities, we are having an online event on July 31st with AYINA. At this event, we will talk about our experiences in Africa and Japan, as well as future possibilities and challenges! Mr. Naito and Ms. Tsuchiya from NPO AYINA will be invited as speakers, and Walter Ikii from Uganda and Friday Chikwala from Zambia, who is the representative of Pendo, will also be speaking. Please join us to learn more about who we can contribute in our communities.