Three hundred Japanese high school students who survived the earthquake and tsunami last year will spend three weeks at UC Berkeley this summer to participate in a leadership program to gain skills intended for them to take back and apply in their home country.
The Tomodachi Summer 2012 SoftBank Leadership Program, that will take place from July 21 to Aug. 10, is part of the Tomodachi Initiative, a public-private partnership spearheaded by the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, Japan. The program intends to support Japan’s recovery from the devastation of the 2011 disaster while trying to develop cultural bonds and long-term economic bridges between Japan and the United States.
The program will be run through a collaborative effort by Ayusa — a San Francisco-based nonprofit created to provide educational exchange programs — and the campus’s Center for Cities and Schools, which will administer the academic component of the program.
“The goal of the program is to create effective agents of change to help them return home to rebuild their communities and country,” said David Beiser, the director of Ayusa Grant Programs.
After attending leadership courses in the mornings, the students will partake in a wide range of activities planned by Ayusa such as a community service project at Clark Kerr Campus assembling water purification kits, talks with speakers such as Kristi Yamaguchi and other events like attending an Oakland Athletics game.
Ayusa and the center have partnered over the past five years for similar programs with students who have come to Berkeley from many different countries in the world, according to Susan Hartmann, the program and operations manager at the center.
Hartmann also said the Japanese students would be providing input to the city of Berkeley Downtown Area Plan, which was passed by the Berkeley City Council in March and aims to bring new economic life to that part of the city.
“The students will be working on projects for the mayor and will help provide input to city about the (Downtown Area) plan, housing, economic development, public spaces and energy and sustainability,” Hartmann said. “This program was chosen because it is important to Berkeley and relevant to the area that the students are from.”
Hartmann said the participating students will have class in Wurster Hall and will be instructed by 12 teachers hired specifically for the program who come from all over the world due to their Japanese and English speaking capabilities. The program will be taught mostly in English with Japanese assistance, as most of the students have elementary English skills.
According to a Feb. 28 press release put out by global education and volunteer program-coordinator Intrax, the students will be on campus on full scholarships and the program will be funded by Softbank Corp., a telecommunications company whose Chairman and CEO is Masayoshi Son, a 1980 UC Berkeley graduate in Economics.
The students, all from the Tohoku region of northeast Japan and ranging from ages 15 to 18, will live in campus dorms during their stay. Ayusa is also currently outreaching to campus faculty and staff as well as other interested hosts in Northern California in order to find places for the students to stay for a weekend homestay during the first weekend of August, according to Beiser.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also made an appearance at the students’ orientation in Japan this past weekend while she was in the country for diplomatic purposes, according to Beiser.
Beiser said the program’s goal is to instill hope in the students, many of whom came from unstable living conditions and difficulties surrounding life after the natural disasters in Japan.
“One student lost everything — her entire family, parents, grandparents, house — all at 17,” Beiser said. “Some of the students are still living in temporary housing units and in tents.”