On December the 27th the volunteers of RIJ met at the Karajan Plaza of Ark Hills early in the morning to set up the venue for this year’s Tree of Hope opening ceremony. Although it was terribly cold and windy and the ceremony took place outdoors, everyone was very excited as we had all been looking forward for this day for a long time. The set up went smoothly and the venue was set up almost too quickly so that we had some time to chat and wait for the guests to come. Someone had brought handwarmers which made the waiting much more enjoyable.
After the guests had arrived and it turned 11:00 we were all waiting for Her Imperial Highness Princess Akishino to arrive. When she came to the venue with Jane Best everyone stood up in respect until she took a seat in the front row. (She looked surprisingly natural and extremely friendly for a real princess!) The ceremony then started with songs performed by the choir of St. Mary’s International School. Their performance was great and blew everyone away!
Then Jane Best welcomed the guests with a speech. She reminded us of the needs of refugee children worldwide and of the importance of the support that the guests have been giving though their donations. Also she told us about her project visits and how little things such as a mosquito net can already change a refugee family’s life and contribute to the family’s ability to send their children to school. It was a great speech and I am sure it encouraged everyone present to continue their support, be it financial donations or volunteering for NPO’s such as RIJ to improve displaced people’s lives.
Mr Masahiko Ogasawara, the Director of Mori Building Co. also welcomed the guests. Mori Building has donated the location for the Tree of Hope event this year and RIJ will be at the venue with several activities and performances thorough December.
Following these speeches attention was turned to the Tree itself! This year’s Tree of Hope is decorated in orange and white, in accordance with the RIJ’s colours. The RIJ Logo – the Hand – hangs in different sizes and colours from the Tree. As every year, the Princess together with two children switched on the lights of the Tree. Everyone was excited to see the illumination, when the choir started counting back from five to zero and the Princess and two students pressed the red button that switched on the trees lights and the Tree was fully illuminated.
The two students, Veranca Shah from Seisen International School and a student from Junten Junior High School then gave their speeches sharing their thoughts on refugees especially children, representing children’s view on this important issue. Both speeches were very impressive as both girls presented their speeches very professionally although the wind and the cold must have been a real disturbance. They both did an excellent job! The ceremony was then closed with a bilingual speech by Saka Matsuchita on behalf of RIJ.
Before leaving the Princess was introduced to the guests and took her time to talk to the students as well as to the St. Mary’s choir. Only after she had left could the rest of the people leave their seats to join the reception at the Ark Hills café.
For me, who was attending RIJ’s Tree of Hope ceremony for the first time, this has been a wonderful experience. It became even more clear to me, how much dedication from different sides is behind this organisation and how all the strings together provide the organisation with the backbone that it needs to be able to support refugees worldwide. I was impressed by the volunteers who made this ceremony possible and made it run smoothly through their dedication and always with a smile on their faces, the guests who have generously donated to RIJ projects, as well as the contributions from the schools and pupils and of course the princess who has been attending the Tree of Hope ceremony for 21 years now.
I am looking forward to the following performances and activities around the Tree of Hope!
By Laura von Schlabrendorff