Free The Children Japan

Free the Children Japan (FTCJ) believes that "children and young people are not just there to be helped; they are agents of change." FTCJ's dual missions are "Free children from poverty and discrimination in Japan and abroad (Mission 1)" and "Free children from the idea that children cannot change the world (Mission 2)," to which FTICJ provides support and awareness programs. In this interview, we talked with Ms. Nakajima, FTCJ's Representative Director.

Study tour in IndiaStudy tour in India

Please tell us about your background and why you started your organization.

When I was a student, I became interested in environmental issues. I realized that children in developing countries, especially those who are more vulnerable, are more likely to be affected by environmental problems. I became interested in poverty, Global North-South issues (the various disparities and inequalities that exist between Northern and Southern hemisphere countries), inequality, and children.

In 1997, I had the opportunity to intern with an NGO in the United States, where I read an article in a local magazine that Craig, a 12-year-old Canadian boy, had founded Free the Children (FTC). I found the statement, "Children's issues can be resolved by children" very surprising because I had never thought of it that way. I myself was born during Japan’s second baby boom, and at school the priority was to follow the teacher's decisions, rather than to take the initiative and speak up for the other children. At the time, I thought that Craig's idea of "even as a child, you should speak out against what you think is wrong" did not exist in Japan, and it was exactly what Japan needed. This is why I established FTCJ in 1999 in order to share the activities of FTC with Japanese children.

Craig and FTC initial members

What was the most difficult part? And the best part?

At first it was difficult to find children members. 1999 was the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by the United Nations and the 5th anniversary of Japan's ratification of the Convention. A large forum for children was to be held in Tokyo, and I participated in it.

I had already decided to support the Philippines, so I invited a child from the Philippines to an event during the forum. She had a history of sexual abuse and was forced to sell her body to foreign tourists, including Japanese people. She was a courageous survivor who was rescued by FTCJ’s partner organizations and later became activist. FTCJ's first children member was born through this event.

The best part is that the Basic Law for Children was passed in June 2022. The FTCJ has been lobbying the government, and the children themselves have made specific proposals to the Diet members, such as, "Please make sure that children's rights are properly taught to children."
What was the feedback from children who participated in events such as the on-site classes?

More than 90% of the children felt that "they had thought they couldn't do anything on their own, but now they feel they can do something." We tried to convey this as an equation "Gift + Issue = Change". Find what you like to do or what you are good at and combine it with social issues to make a change! There are many children who, having thought about what kind of change they can make, actually went on to take action.

Group photo at the campGroup photo at the camp

How will the FIT funds be used?

We have started to develop educational materials to make it easier for children to understand their rights and realize their wellbeing. We have also asked child psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, and other specialists to participate in the development of the educational materials, so the FIT grant will be used to pay for the fees for the experts and for the cost of creating videos. We would like to present our teaching materials and workshops during Children's Month in November and develop human resources (facilitators) who can conduct workshops by March.

How can we get involved in FTCJ activities?

Volunteers are needed for event management, translation, pro bono work, etc. We would be happy to have adults who are interested in FTCJ activities participate as well. In December, another organization with which FTCJ cooperates will hold the "Tokyo Great Santa Run", a charity event in which parents and children can participate. The proceeds from the Tokyo Great Santa Run will be donated to causes including international cooperation and support for children with intractable diseases in Japan.

In October, we will hold "Trash? or Treat?" under the auspices of Setagaya Ward. We will dress up like a regular Halloween event, but instead of asking for candy, people will bring in canned goods and other food items they have lying around at home and donate them to a food bank.

What are your plans for the future?

Craig says, "Children are not only the leaders of the future, they are the leaders of today." Children have the power to make a difference, and they are still a part of society, but it is hard for them to be heard. Even if they have an interest in society’s problems they’re told “they’re too young” or “but you’re just a child”, and this situation needs to be changed; however, children cannot do it alone. Therefore, it is necessary for adults to be aware of the voices of these children and provide support for them. We need to create a society in which everyone, regardless of age or position, can be an agent of change.

In March next year, we will hold the "Change Makers Fes" at Tokyo Dome City Hall. We will invite children and young people under the age of 25 who have taken action on social issues, free of charge, to share their past actions and celebrate their achievements. I would like to make this event into something for children and young people working on social issues to aim towards, in the same way as tournaments provide a clear goal for those participating in club activities. We are planning to have celebrities such as singers and actors who are popular among children and young people participate in the event.

Change Makers Fes

Ms. Nakajima, FTCJ's Representative Director (Center) and FIT2022 organizing committee members; Mr. Takahashi (Left) Ms. Nakajima, FTCJ's Representative Director (Center) and FIT2022 organizing committee members; Mr. Takahashi (Left)

Free The Children Japan, Certified NPO (Nintei NPO)