Asobiba Easter Workshop

6 years ago the community of Oya was hit by the tsunami of 3.11.  Hundreds of families came together at the Teragai community center where OGA for Aid worked to coordinate food and water supplies. Temporary housing was built near by and hundreds moved into the courtyard of the elementary school – the facilities stand there to this day.

The Asobiba no kai began as a project to look after the young children whose parents were working. From daily activities to providing soup lines monthly for families in need the Obachans behind the Asobiba no Kai are energetic, friendly and dedicated. Place To Grow held its first workshop with the Asobiba no kai, and shared the games and celebrations of Easter with the children.

The PTG volunteers arrived at 10:15 and set up the egg dying station inside the greenhouse/Asobiba no kai meeting space. The obachans helped set up the room, make decorations, invitations and banners.


12: Local Children

6: Local Adults

8: PTG Volunteers

2: Partner Volunteers

Did you know? In the 16th century painting eggs with colors was meant to signify bringing spring into the home. Flower petals were added to the water – creating a simple dye effect.

After the preparations Angela led the whip-around of introductions of volunteers and participants. Then teacher Aika explained about spring and the tradition of Easter. We talked about coloring eggs, what games we play with eggs and how there are many ways to decorate them now. 

The grandmothers cut out paper rabbits to string up while the children dyed eggs, used crayons and markers to add pictures and shapes, while others still preferred to cover theirs in glitter for a delicate and sparkly look.

The craft time was followed by the Easter Egg Hunt -15 reusable plastic colored eggs were recycled by volunteers and grandmothers, who kept up a steady assembly line filling and hiding these eggs for the children to hunt.  

This was by far the highlight of the event, but we also got in some games like the spoon/egg race and redlight/greenlight (another favorite!)

The winners of the final game received “party OGA sunglasses” and ALL the children received an Easter chocolate egg to eat. 

We wrapped up the workshop with a short reflection huddle where the kids were asked to give us feedback on their favorite part of the day.

“What was the activity you enjoyed the most?” Lucia asked. “The egg hunt!“  “The spoon race!” “The egg hunt!” ….and while unanimously kids gave favorite of the day to the egg hunt, it was Miwako Suzuki who on behalf of the obachans said her favorite part was hiding the eggs for the kids.  

Also we received feedback from the obachan that most events are Japanese cultured related events so it was good and beneficial to bring in and introduce an  international environment and atmosphere.

“Volunteers talking to the kids in English is a rare opportunity” said community leader, M. Suzuki, “its very stimulating to the children’s minds. “

Playing with eggs also seemed to be a brand new activity.

“I’ve never done this”, said 10 year old H. “I didn't even know you could play with eggs!”

“I liked all of it! “Said G, 16years old. “Me too, echoed his buddy,” 14 years old

The energy, excitement and curiosity from the children and volunteers alike made this a truly memorable workshop. The weather was warm, sunny with bright blue skies. We are happy to have the Asobiba no kai join Place to Grow as a local partner and beneficiary community.

Art Workshop #2 with Ohana International School

This November 6th, we hit the road bright and early for a weekend adventure in Minami Sanriku, lead by the fantastic people at オハナ・インターナショナル・スクール.

Our volunteers from Tokyo designed an inspiring artistic curriculum that would encourage the children to explore their creativity through the use of a selection of "junk art" materials, such as feathers, string, woodchips, tiles, corks, and more, applied to large primed canvases.  

The theme of the art creations was the symbolic tree in Rikuzentakata that has come to symbolize the resilience of the people of Tohoku.

After a quick warm-up session and introduction, the children jumped right in and worked in extremely creative and unexpected ways to make some truly expressive and beautiful pieces of art.  The children worked together to put together their masterpieces, along with volunteers at each table to provide support and encouragement.

 Children at the workshop presenting their art works.
Children at the workshop presenting their art works.



17: Local Children

5: Local Adults

2: PTG Volunteers

6: Partner Volunteers

Watch the video report!

After each work of art was complete, each team of children brought their finished piece in front of the group, and were asked to explain their idea and vision for the art.

We were blown away at the presence of the children's presentations; the complexity of their ideas and the detailed, deep stories they told.

We are very much looking forward to the next visit!

Satoumi Farm – BBQ & Wool Workshop

For PTG’s August workshop, we partnered with Satoumi Farm to enjoy outdoor activities with families in Minami Sanriku.

Satoumi Farm is a small local business located in the Utatsu area of Minami Sanriku. They were established to offer a safe space for children to play, which is valuable in the post-tsunami town where children often have to play inside the temporary housing or in the parking lot.

The Farm has about two dozen sheep which are available for petting and BBQ. They also offer a wool weaving workshop and a kayaking experience. The highlight of this workshop was going to be Kayaking but unfortunately it was cancelled due to high waves. This caused a number of families to cancel attendance (we initially had 34 adults and children registered, but the number reduced to 13).  


7: Local Children

6: Local Adults

3: PTG Volunteers

The participants were all boys and they waited on the playground equipment until everyone arrived.

The event started with visiting the sheep. A staff member at the Farm showed 2 kinds of sheep then took the group to the lamb section. The boys had a chance to feed the lamb (the food includes grinded seaweed found on the shore, it is supposed to make the meat tender), and offered an opportunity to clip its nails but they weren’t ready to give it a try. 

The group then walked over to the wool workshop hut. We wrapped a small piece of wool around a sheep-shaped wood, and pinpricked over and over until it resembled a real sheep. The moms took over from the boys halfway through to finish the craft, and the boys went back to the playground until the BBQ time.

We started the fire and the boys hung out on the hammocks. The dads were in charge of the grill. Moms caught up on their friendship. Kids ran around, played with the cat (the pet on the Farm) in between eating. After the BBQ the dads took the kids to the shore to cool down. 

Especially the dads seemed to have been impressed by the American style BBQ. Grilling pates instead of thinly sliced meat is new enough, but making a hamburger by putting it between the buns is not something Japanese people normally do at a BBQ.

Satoumi Farm started a few years after the tsunami by the people outside of Miyagi. Thus not all local people are familiar with the business. This workshop may have served as an opportunity to connect the old and new residents of MSR. For example, Hoshi-gumi paid a quick visit during the workshop, it was their first time to see the Farm and they mentioned they possibly want to use this space for future events. 


Iriya Umeboshi Workshop

PTG’s July workshop took place at Iriya Community Center on Sunday, July 24, 2016. There were approximately 26 participants, of which two were children—a six-year-old girl and her little brother. The other participants mostly consisted of grandmothers and younger mothers. The umeboshi workshop was hosted by Bakke no Kai, a group of elderly women in Minami Sanriku that regularly gets together to cook regional cuisine. Members of this group are also involved in PTG’s Grandma’s Gift Box program, a fundraising program which supports local businesses as well as funding children’s workshops such as this.

Volunteers that showed up included Place to Grow’s very own Aki Endo, Lucia Ishikawa, Junko Kodera, and the father-son duo of David and Henry Slater. After Lucia talked about PTG, its involvement in the local community, and upcoming events, Henry gave a brief introduction of his Talk To Me project, a Huffington Post campaign where children interview their parents to learn more about their lives and family history. We are hoping this could take place in the Minami-Sanriku area. Although this was a foreign idea to many of the participants, we were able to set up contacts with a few of the people there.

The workshop began as Saijo-sensei and Ando-san explained what we were going to do: learn to make umeboshi (dried plum) and then cook up a delicious lunch with umeboshi, rice, and various other local vegetables.

First, everyone took bundles of shiso leaves and washed them well, pulling the stems off and keeping the leaves. Then, one of the grandmothers (Kazuko-san), a shiso expert, made sure we had wrung all of the wet leaves completely before putting them all in one bowl and mixing them with a little bit of sugar. These leaves were all going to be used to make umeboshi, but since making umeboshi from scratch is slightly time-consuming, we were going to eat umeboshi that had been already made (fresh, of course) for lunch.


2: Local Children Participants

13: Local Adult Participants

6: Bakke no Kai volunteers

5: OGA volunteers

On the other side of the kitchen, people worked very hard, cooking rice, making miso soup, and preparing pickled vegetables. Once the rice was ready, Saijo-sensei showed the shiso leaf people how to make ume onigiris (rice balls).

First, she laid out a small piece of plastic saran wrap. Then, she scooped out some beautiful white rice and put in on the wrap. Finally, she took the umeboshi (which we had removed all of the seeds from), and pushed it into the rice with her finger, finishing by wrapping it all together and shaping it into a pretty onigiri.

Everyone helped bring the food to the tables, and we all sat down to eat a tasty lunch while chatting and socializing with one another. It was a lot of fun to get to know the people in the local community.

After the workshop, Saijo-sensei said, “The people of Minami-Sanriku had a great time and are very grateful. Thank you. We learned a lot from the fabulous work that Place to Grow did as well.”

Nagoya Mosaic Workshop

PTG’s June workshop was held on June 11th at Hotel Kanyo. This event was focused on bringing children and their families in Minami Sanriku (MSR) together to enjoy mosaic art. Everyone was able to spend the afternoon together with old and new friends. Nagoya Mosaic came for the day and held a mosaic workshop for all of the children. They helped the children craft their own coasters and photo frames with a vibrant array of tiles.

First everyone made their own coasters with many of the girls including pinks, purples, and blues in their designs as well as hearts. Some of the boys used other colors as well as tried to make interesting designs.

 Tile art pieces and frame.
Tile art pieces and frame.

After gluing all the pieces down volunteers helped set the new designs in plaster as the kids made their photo frames. Some made beautiful geometric pieces while others included different shapes and sizes. Some of them asked their friends to make a design for them or to pick out pieces for their own.

“Everyone had a lot of fun. My three girls liked making their own photo frames to share their memories. It was great to see them get to make something that they could keep.”

 Getting creative!
Getting creative!

“The different designs that the children made were all very pretty and interesting. We are happy that they had such a good time.”

“It is difficult to get children from all over MSR to come to an event like this. I am glad that they were able to make new friends today.”

In total 19 people came to the event. Although there were only eight children it was the perfect size for all of the crafts they were making. The different mosaics were great for a bonding experience as most everyone asked each other which color or piece was better. As a result, each coaster and photo frame had a little input by everyone. 


8: Local Children Participants

4: Local Adult Participants

4: Volunteers from Nagoya Mosaic

3: Volunteers from Place to Grow

Hogan Lovells

Place to Grow Corporate Sponsor Profile

We are excited to share this profile of the wonderful people at Hogan Lovells, who have been supporting Place to Grow through both in-kind donations, staff volunteer support, and financial aid.  Hogan Lovells is a global legal practice that helps corporations, financial institutions, and governmental entities across the spectrum of their critical business and legal issues globally and locally. 

Please tell us about your company, and why you chose to get involved with Place to Grow?

Volunteering and citizenship (corporate social responsibility) is a very important part of the work of all of our employees at Hogan Lovells and we encourage full participation in these types of activities.  In the case of choosing which charities to support, we usually have staff nominate two or three different choices and then everybody votes on which one to support as our main charity for the year.  The democratic process helps to ensure the engagement of the whole office.

We go beyond talking about good Citizenship – we live it every day. Everyone is asked to volunteer at least 25 hours each year as part of normal work duties, and our lawyers devote more than 100,000 hours every year to pro bono matters. We invest our time, talents, and resources in the places where we live and work, and across our global community.

Globally, we run a Community Investment program that covers all volunteering undertaken by our people.  It focuses on non-legal skills and can be undertaken by anyone in our offices. Our staff work closely with local community organisations, charities and schools to develop projects that tackle social issues faced by people in the areas in which our offices are located. Our five priority areas focus on education, employability, mentoring, social welfare, and working with the elderly. Many of our projects also offer our people the opportunity to develop their own skills alongside giving back to our communities. 

What inspires you personally about your work, and about volunteering?

It is inspiring to know that our HL Tokyo office team is constantly striving to become a more all-encompassing, caring group of global citizens. Having an opportunity to volunteer means that one can contribute not only on work matters assigned to the individual but on matters that one has chosen to get involved in that count towards something that matters to Hogan Lovells and society as a whole.  There is a trickle-down effect of this engagement in volunteering and going beyond what one would normally be expected to do when carrying out one's duties at work.  There is a sense of taking responsibility for each other as a team and this inspires one to work at Hogan Lovells and take responsibility also for doing a better job.

Exemplary Citizenship is an integral part of Hogan Lovells’ culture and strategy. Our shared belief in the value of social responsibility is one of the bonds that unifies us as a global firm and we seek to engage all of our offices and people in our Citizenship programs.  Many of us have worked on some impressive and ground-breaking Citizenship activities over the years and are able to provide leadership in this domain as well as in the specialist area of legal practice.

Would you recommend volunteering to other companies or individuals?

Absolutely!  Volunteering is an invaluable way to connect with the wider community, which we are all part of.  Volunteering can provide much needed support to others in the community, as well as offering all participants a chance to develop as individuals, and to learn new skills.  Volunteering is ultimately a rewarding experience for everyone.


Kamiwarizaki Day Camp

 The international community makes it's presence known at our May pick-up Rugby BBQ event!
The international community makes it's presence known at our May pick-up Rugby BBQ event!

PTG’s May workshop was held on May 28th at the Kamiwarizaki Camp Site.  It was a large event that focused on children and families in Minami Sanriku (MSR), in celebration of spring time together, and with members of the international community.

Australia & New Zealand Chamber of Commerce Japan (ANZCCJ) along with Club Australia and Street Rugby Association held a street rugby game. They explained the basic rules to the participants and practiced passing the ball back and fourth before getting into the game.

Street rugby was followed by a BBQ. US Navy from Misawa Air Base provided the meat, buns, and condiments, and Hoshi-Gumi volunteers organized vegetables, oysters, scallops and drinks through their local connections.

PTG founder Angela Ortiz provided face painting throughout the event. The navy played soccer with kids after the BBQ. Overall, it was an afternoon loaded with activities and fun!

 Local delicacies on the BBQ.
Local delicacies on the BBQ.

“The weather was fantastic and Kamiwarizaki was the perfect location to play sports and have a BBQ. My son enjoyed playing soccer and even got to keep the ball at the end. It was a valuable experience to interact with so many people. Thank you for the fun time.”

“My son and I had a lot of fun, the time went by so quickly. Kids normally have to play in a contained space, so it was great to see my son run around freely for three hours. His eyes were sparkling when he told me he was very happy he got to play a lot with other kids. We the moms were able to chat a lot in the meantime so we had a lovely time as well.”

 BBQ preparations underway by volunteers.
BBQ preparations underway by volunteers.

We invited MSR attendees through various means, including posting flyers in Hotel Kanyo, asked Warasuko Expedition (a part of MSR Reconstruction Network that organizes children’s activities) to share information with past participants, and through personal connections and word-of-mouth.

Our current challenges are to increase the visibility of PTG, and secure a large enough participant pool. We are talking to a local group about a potential partnership with PTG to plug in volunteers and internationally-themed activities into an existing network and organization.  Stay tuned!

By the Numbers

25: Local Children Participants

30: Local Adult Participants

40: Volunteers from ANZCCJ, Club Australia and Street Rugby Association

10: Volunteers from Misawa Navy

5: Volunteers from Hoshi-Gumi and Oraho (OGA’s local partners)

5: Volunteers from OGA

Ohana Art Workshop

On January 24th, a cold wave hit Minami Sanriku with a light dusting of snow. Ten children arrived at the Portal Center and warmed up the room by the time we began our first art workshop. The participants were between 5 and 15 years old, all members of the Yosakoi dance team. They are kids who are used to expressing themselves through dance, and on this day they had canvasses, paint, sponges and other texture options, as well as their own hands to communicate what they loved about their hometown.

Volunteers from Ohana International School in Tokyo prepared all the art supplies and bags of home-baked cookies and muffins for each child to take home. Together with three international students from Tohoku University, volunteers provided a friendly, multicultural environment for kids to feel safe about communicating in a combination of English and Japanese, and painting whatever they liked. 

As each painting was completed, Ohana volunteers went around and interviewed the children about what was in the painting, and the story behind it. One girl painted an octopus, a special product of this district. Another girl painted a vegetable garden her family took care of outside their temporary housing. Themes in other paintings included a sunset over the ocean, a snowy scene, fireworks, Kamiwarizaki (a regional tourist attraction with an old legend), etc.

It was a quality time for participants and volunteers to learn about one another. While painting, children talked about what they should study in the future, and a volunteer shared when and how he chose his current path. One of the moms described how their life has been since the disaster, reminisced about how the Yosakoi team was formed, and told us how needed it is to have an opportunity for kids to enjoy each other’s company.

To show their appreciation to the volunteers, children performed the Yosakoi dance after the workshop. Their faces and posture changed the moment the music started, and the kids transformed into a group of highly energetic dancers. 

By The Numbers

10 : Children from the Yosakoi Dance team in Minami Sanriku attended.

06 : Volunteers from Ohana International School in Tokyo hosted the event.

05 : Volunteers from O.G.A. for Aid in Tokyo and Minami Sanriku supported the event.

03 : Dance Routine Performed.

15 : Works of Art Created!

Visit オハナ・インターナショナル・スクール here to learn more about their educational programs in Tokyo.

PS. Download the class lesson plan here!