Crack That Whip!

This news is a little late, but remember when I got all conscience-ridden, which prompted a lot of vague things, one of which was to eventually write to Oxfam? Well, I'm now an Oxfam volunteer--and I say this with no proud puffing out of chest. Maybe even a slight chest deflation.

When I received a reply to my inquiry about volunteering, I was thrilled silly because, one, they replied and, two, they didn't tell me to "go away, you pitiful non-Japanese-speaker, you." In fact, I was so pepped, I agreed to a 10am (ouch*) meeting, I dutifully did my reading on Oxfam, and I even debated with myself as to whether to wear a skirt to the "interview."

Turns out I could have been spared the wrenching torment of an early rising, I didn't need to wear the skirt, and it wasn't an interview. The meeting I attended a few weeks back was not, as I'd assumed, an interview but an orientation. I was not being asked to come in to fill a position several times a week; instead I was pointed to a shelf of brochures and told, "Do whatever you like." With perhaps one or two full-time staff, Oxfam Japan is extremely new and virtually unheard of in this country. In fact, from what was explained to me during the orientation, they were having a hard enough time that, just last year, a foreign volunteer group was created in the hope that the Japanese public would be inspired to get more rigorously involved. Because it is the support of the Japanese people that is needed; most foreigners just don't stick around long enough.

There seem to be quite a few volunteers, but everyone does his or her own thing at his or her own pace. It is this casual flexibility that has allowed me to be so readily welcomed, and for that I'm grateful. But--and here comes the big, horrifying revelation--I fear I won't accomplish anything in this environment. It's not that I lack initiative--okay, yes, I lack initiative. Why do you think it took me 27 years just to admit that I need to actually *do something*? Hell, if I were brimming with solutions as to how to be more socially/politically active, wouldn't I have done something by now? It's not like I've simply been waiting to don a lime-green Oxfam t-shirt or to be told to "Do whatever you like" in order to burst into action.

Please don't get me wrong. Ignore my bitchy attack of the lime-green (which in fact is rather fresh and charming). I don't fault Oxfam Japan--they're doing the best they can on extremely limited resources. And don't think I'm apathetic. I want so much to help in any way I can. But I had hoped for a bit of direction, a bit of a crash-course intro into everything. I'd imagined ongoing projects that I'd assist with and through which I'd learn a bit about the workings of an NPO. Instead, I got what felt like a brisk handshake and a "So long and good luck!" Not even a pink Mary Kay starter kit, damn it. What worries me is that I don't feel that my situation is any different from when I was first flapping my hands about, uselessly crying, "What should I do?"

And now that I've grumbled a bit, now I've got to figure out what the heck to do, start setting projects for myself, because it would seem that Oxfam Japan is what I've got to work with, and if I don't act soon, I'll just get lost in one great big dither. I'm a ditherer! And a slacker. I am the Goddess of Slackery. Anyone feel like helping to crack a whip over this goddess's head? I need all the help I can get.

Note to foreigners in Japan: Don't be discouraged by my dung-headed pessimism. If you've got more energy and creativity than me--you do, trust me--please join Oxfam and help with what I think is the most crucial mission at this time: to increase awareness of the organization, particularly among the Japanese people. Or, as I was encouraged: Do whatever you like!

*You may roll your eyes, but 10am is no laughing matter. I sleep at around 4:30am, have a dog that needs to be walked, and live an hour's commute from anywhere. For me, waking up at 7am is like asking someone with a nine-to-five job to wake up at 4am. Seriously!

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oh my word - that would completely bamboozle me. I can't deal without parameters. I would sit there with my head spinning and my eyes looking Bambi style scared going "but anything? what do you mean, anything ?". Who are those people out there who are inventive and creative and can do things without being pushed in a direction by a forceful person and told "do this, THIS is good"?  

from The B

6/07/2005 03:51:00 AM  

Wonder what they will say if you ask them for a little direction in what would be more useful to do for the organization.

Maybe they are just trying not to push too much. After all you're a volunteer and they could be afraid of turning you off. 

from Ana

6/07/2005 10:44:00 AM  

Oh yes, I definitely remember your attack of conscience and subsequent action. And now you're an Oxfam volunteer! Good for you. First some empathy and then a few practical suggestions: I too need definite boundaries if I am going to get something done: rules, deadlines (just not too constricting, please). And it turns into slackery without them... but the good news is, you can manufacture those guidelines! :-) Maybe ask the other volunteers what they are doing and see if you can join forces (unless they only speak Japanese)? Or do some internet research on Oxfam and see what their goals and objectives and methods are, and see if you can't start to implement a few of them... I do think you will live up to their lime-greem expectations! You go girl... you have already made the decision to make a difference, now you just need to structure your difference.  

from Jessica

6/07/2005 04:40:00 PM  

Hey girl, congratulations for at least making that first step!! I never even got there to start with. I so know what you're talking about. In your shoes, I would most certainly do nothing. I'm like, "I volunteer my time and you want me to do what? Plan something from scratch? How the hell would I know what to do???" That said, you should fight all urges to dither (as I would) and give this a shot! Jessica has great suggestions and of course, now that you've announced this all to us on your blog, you HAVE to do something!! You go girl!!  

from Hsin

6/07/2005 09:42:00 PM  

Wow, I'm impressed by your initiative. Maybe the people there don't know the international community in Japan very well and so they actually don't really know how to go about drumming up interest.

If I were you I'd start by doing an overview of what communications resources are available within the international community (websites, social groups, annual events, etc). Once you know all the 'how' options it should be easier to define the 'what'.

But hey, what do I know about volunteering? 

from Jaime

6/08/2005 10:17:00 PM  

Hey, thanks everybody! No sounds of whips cracking, but your words of encouragement were just as effective.

Hi B, sounds like you understand me well! I know, I'm so jealous of all these people with stores of go-get'em gumption--I guess they're the ones with real achievements under their belts. Sigh.

Hi Ana, one problem is that there isn't really anyone to go *to*. It's truly just a bunch of us volunteers--no head honcho from whom to beg guidance.

Thanks for the support and suggestions, Jessica. Making contact with each volunteer is something I definitely should be doing.

Hsin, you're right! I can't back down now that I've made this public announcement (wow, I sound like an official entity or something). Can I perhaps convince you to become a fellow volunteer and much-needed comrade...?

Thanks, Jaime. Oh, I definitely appreciate your advice, and I bet you know more about volunteering than I do.  

from Rachel

6/08/2005 11:47:00 PM  

You mean, they just throw you in there without any kind of guidance? How are you supposed to know what to do? Ok, I'll ask you more about it later when I see you. Maybe I should do something other than walking Libby and going to cooking school too. 

from Lynn

6/14/2005 11:05:00 AM  

Yes, yes! Join ussssss... 

from Rachel

6/15/2005 03:50:00 AM  

hi, I posted a comment once a couple mths back, cant find it now but thats irrelevant. I just wanted to say, i totally understand your experience having moved to tokyo almost 6 mths ago.

nothign is ever easy, even something thats as noble and selfless (at least in the time you give) seems riddled with landmines of apathy, conservatism and fear. i'm sure your dog, man and your work appreciates u and I know i definitely enjoy coming to your blog to escape tokyo.

thank u i say and you're volunteering your humour and sanity (or otherwise) to me.  

from j

7/15/2005 04:25:00 PM  

Hi J,

Sorry I took so long to reply! The hack I'm using for "recent comments" does not pick up comments for old posts, and I knew you had posted, but I couldn't find where.

Thank you for your words of encouragement. I must say the source of my current volunteering troubles mostly stem from myself, so I have to buckle down and figure things out.

I'm glad you gain sanity from this blog, however! 

from Rachel

7/20/2005 06:58:00 PM  

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