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Festival Showcases Efforts to Tackle Development Issues (December 10, 2004)

International Cooperation Festival
One of the booths at the festival
The government of Japan has designated October 6 International Cooperation Day, and to celebrate this, an International Cooperation Festival is held every year at the beginning of October. 50 years have passed since the start of Japan's international cooperation program, which began on October 6, 1954. The festival, the fourteenth of its kind, was held in Tokyo's Hibiya Park on the weekend of October 2-3. The atmosphere at this year's event was particularly vibrant, and the venue was brightly decorated with large numbers of small flags commemorating the fiftieth anniversary.

Rich Array of Booths and Events
Hibiya Park is situated more or less in the center of Japan's capital city. In that sense it is like New York's Central Park, although it cannot compare with it in terms of size. In the district around the park are many government offices and top-class hotels. On October 2, the park was dominated by a sea of some 200 booths. The majority of them represented non-governmental organizations, but Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, and the embassies of various developing countries also had booths. Each booth dealt with a specific theme, such as health and medical services, rural development, peace, and the environment. There were lectures and workshops, and even stalls offering ethnic dishes from various countries, with a variety of music coming from a stage set up on the site.

Telecoms Knowledge Put to Good Use
As a taster of what the festival had to offer, let us focus on two unique NGOs. The Basic Human Needs Association is a special non-profit organization founded in 1992 whose purpose is to assist in the area of basic human needs. The association held a workshop on the first day of the festival with the theme "Telecommunications Saves People." A distinguishing characteristic of this organization is that it is staffed mainly by retired staff of NTT (Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation) and other Japanese telecoms companies. Understandably, its activities are concentrated in the field of telecommunications. But its work is not restricted simply to building up telecoms infrastructure.

International Cooperation Festival
A workshop at the festival

In Afghanistan, the association installed wireless communications between a hospital in the center of Kandahar and 30 or so medical facilities in the surrounding area. This has made it possible for doctors in the hospital to give appropriate instructions for medical treatment at the outlying facilities. And in Malaysia's Sarawak region on the island of Borneo, the association built an integrated remote medical diagnostic system, enabling on-the-spot diagnosis for patients at remote facilities. It was also active in Iran after a major earthquake hit the country in 2003. The BHNA sent its personnel to the affected area immediately and provided a mobile-phone service over a period of several days to ascertain the safety of people.

After introducing these and other of the association's activities, the workshop ended with a demonstration of wireless equipment in action. A third-year university student who attended the workshop said that she found it very interesting: "I was impressed, as I had never heard of an NGO that specialized in telecommunications before." BHNA staff were happy to have an opportunity to publicize their work. One member explained: "Normally there is very little chance to engage in PR about the association's work, so we're very grateful that the festival gives us this opportunity." He added, enthusiastically: "We took part for the first time last year, and we will certainly be coming again next year."

Rain Cannot Dampen Festivalgoers' Spirits
The second day of the festival unfortunately turned out to be a Sunday of heavy rain. The visitors to the event on the first day probably included many who happened to be in the area and dropped in out of curiosity. But those who came on the Sunday in spite of the downpour must surely have been people with a strong interest in international cooperation.

International Cooperation Festival
Visitors listen intently to a presentation

The idea for the I Love Asia Fund came to South Korean student Woo Soo-gun when he was studying in Japan. A retired Japanese man working as a volunteer for the foundation explained: "In view of the unhappy relations that existed between Japan and South Korea in the past, I wanted very much to do something to benefit South Korea. But Woo's idea was loftier than that: he wanted Japan and South Korea to get together and do something to benefit Asia. When I learned about this I immediately decided to participate."

The I Love Asia Fund was set up in April 2001, based on this idea of getting over the wall of history that separated Japan and South Korea by means of joint activities in Asia. Today the foundation has offices in Japan and South Korea, and all its staff are volunteers. Some 30 to 40 people, mainly university students, are involved in jointly helping in schools in Cambodia. Its financial base is still weak and it has yet to begin full-fledged activities, but already it is taking shape as an NGO with unique potential.

The Significance of the Festival
According to the organizers of the event, 34,000 people visited the festival on the first day and 11,000 on the second day, despite the heavy rain. What impressions did the 45,000 visitors gain?

"I don't usually have an opportunity to come into contact with NGOs, so I found it very interesting," said one man, a fourth-year university student. "As a matter of fact I'm even considering working for an NGO after graduating."

A young woman in her late twenties employed by a foreign company observed, "It was good that they didn't just have booths selling things but explained about their activities, too." It was the first time she had visited the event and admitted that, after seeing references to "fiftieth anniversary," she had thought that the festival itself had been held for 50 years.

A woman in her third year of university was very happy " to have an opportunity to talk to people from international institutions, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and organizations like JICA and JBIC." She had heard that some students in one university had been given assignments to visit the festival and write a report on it. "It's quite impossible to see everything in just two days. They should make it a bit longer," were her parting words.

An official of an embassy that had a booth at the festival praised it: "Small countries like ours don't get many chances to publicize themselves, so an event like this is very welcome."

It is evident that the International Cooperation Festival offers a useful and valuable arena both for the exhibitors and for the visitors. However, the vast majority of visitors are people who already have an interest in international cooperation. Now the task for the organizers is to find ways of attracting visitors who are not usually so interested in such activities.

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Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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