Chidera Onyeoziri ’18 and Gillian Mak ’18 recently returned from Japan where they participated in HELIO (Human Ecology Lab In Osakikamijima). HELIO is an intensive two-week program that brought together 24 changemakers from around the world to help launch the next era in Japanese higher education by co-designing a new Japanese “college”’ in the community of Osakikamijima, Hiroshima.
Students were selected from through the Ashoka University network; Hamilton College was recognized as an Ashoka Changemaker campus in 2014.
Students were immersed in the local community, took part in cutting edge workshops, and learned from local and internationally recognized leaders in government, peace activism, and social entrepreneurship. At the end of the program they presented their vision for higher education to the town officials and islanders.
Mak spent her first week doing fieldwork to prepare for presentations for the mayor of Osakikamijima. Her fieldwork was focused on displaying what a system of education based on human ecology would look like. She traveled to the small, remote island of Teshima, which was the site of a large environmental social movement in the 1990's. “I got to meet with leaders of the movement and talk about grassroots organizing, visit the site of industrial waste cleanup, and interview artists, students, and elders in the community about their hopes, dreams, and fears,” said Mak.
“For me, this program was so impactful because it took the leadership and social innovation skills I've been learning on the Hill and allowed me to apply them in a context that is so different from our own community. I was challenged by the language barriers and amazed by the helpfulness of the Japanese university students that interpreted for us,” she said.
Onyeoziri said, “HELIO II taught me that respect for tradition is an integral part of social innovation -- here innovation is conceptualized as personal and communal transformation.” Osakikamijima's most successful industries, particularly the Shoyu Soy Sauce Factory and the Nakahara Blueberry Farm, are those at whose core is "old wisdom."
She said, “Resisting modern industrialization and mass production, the Shoyu Clan persisted in making soy sauce according to family custom, patiently using natural bacteria to enhance and preserve the savory, sweet, and salty taste of Shoyu soy sauce. Similarly, Mr. Nakahara returned to the island to maintain his family's 800-year-old blueberry farm, expanding from growing blueberries to crops harvested year-long including citruses and rice.”
Both the Shoyu factory and Nakahara farm are members of a thriving symbiotic ecosystem in Osakikamijima. This ecosystem includes, among others, Oyster Farm Suzuki, the Enko Cram School, Miura Coffee, Minamikun of the Tourist Bureau, Van Gur, and the Maritime School. These businesses and individual members of the island community rely on one another to create mutually beneficial opportunities. The Oyster Farm creates employment opportunities for Maritime students; the Shoyu Factory creates fertilizer for the Simple-en Organic Farm; Miura Coffee creates spaces for local youth to gather and socialize; Van Gur and Minamikun escaped city life to pursue personal projects that rely on and thus underscore the importance of community.
“Each person and business I visited and interviewed clearly demonstrated the delicate balance between tradition and transformation, and this very balance is the foundation of social innovation and social entrepreneurship,” Onyeoziri said. The most effective innovators and entrepreneurs are … who enter critical situation with open minds and empathic hearts, ready to listen as locals share concerns, hopes, and goals for the future. In other words, innovation and entrepreneurship — and by extension, change — requires patience.”
The second week of the program was based in Hiroshima City, where the group visited the Atomic Peace Memorials and met with Nobel Laureate Jerry White and a survivor of the atomic bomb. They also completed a homestay, visited the island of Miyajima, and met with Peace Winds, a Japanese NGO that works with aid for refugee communities.