Claire Lewis reflects on her time with RIJ

imageI worked at Refugees International Japan for just over a year from 2011-2012. I can honestly say it has been one of the most valuable experiences I have ever had. In that time I was able to engage in a wider range of activities than I would have been able to do so from a conventional administration or managerial job. I worked in close partnership with the CEO, the trustees, the management board, interns as well as volunteers. I met with academics, business leaders, leading experts and even a Princess.  I worked with volunteers from at least 20 different countries. I worked on major events, helped in developing future plans for fundraising and was able run my own projects. I got an unique experience into some of the more intricate ways of the Japanese work culture in both Tokyo and on visits to other cities in Japan.
Above all of this, the single most rewarding part was reviewing the project reports and reading the case studies of particular individuals that Refugees International Japan had helped. In all cases, those individuals and the wider community had undergone an absolutely positive life changing experience as a direct result.  Basic health care projects significantly relieved huge financial and emotional burdens on individuals and their families, from enabling people to see again, by funding cataract operations at an eye clinic in Chad, to mothers being able to care for their new born babies with hygiene kits in a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border.  Education projects supporting Syrian and Burmese refugees go to school, to education and empowerment projects for women all over Africa enabled refugees to support their families and give them much greater opportunities for the future.  Many had gone on to empower their own communities and set up businesses and initiatives that enabled more refugees to flourish, becoming inspirational leaders and role models to others.  In Japan, I visited towns that were in the process of rebuilding after the 2011 Tsunami, meeting with people who were working so hard to rebuild by bringing the community together to focus on recovery and a positive future.  All of these projects that RIJ supported did so much more than just provide better health care, or training, or education or support to refugees.  In the cases of the refugees that had been forced to move because of conflict, it became clear that through the RIJ funded projects they had begun to get back an element of dignity and self respect.    Hearing first hand of the stories of survival and the powerful resolve and determination to rebuild in the middle of a situation that seems so hopeless is overwhelmingly inspiring.
Being a volunteer with RIJ has definitely helped me gain a much wider professional working experience, which in turn has helped further my career.  Most satisfyingly however, was the knowledge that the work and effort I put in was making a significant impact on refugees, who by circumstances beyond their control, had been forced to lose their homes, jobs, schools, families and their basic human rights.  RIJ gives refugees back these rights and offers opportunities which help people rebuild their lives, restore their dignity and strengthen their communities.  In return, the stories of the remarkable human strength and the determination of the refugees to change their lives for the better, have an overwhelmingly lasting impact on you.  However much time you can give, I guarantee the experience will be worth it and the reward is truly inspirational.
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