Before Joining Mirai no Mori
Takuya has spent his entire life in the care system. When he was just an infant, he was admitted to the infant care home, because his mother was unable to take care of him due to health issues. He entered a children’s care home when he was 2 years old, and stayed until he turned 18 and graduated from high school in 2020.
Having learned how to get along with children of all ages through life in the care home, Takuya was an independent child who did things his own way. As an elementary and junior high school student, he had a perfect attendance record at school. Hard-working, considerate, and someone who took advice well, Takuya was well-liked by everyone in the care home. When he entered high school, he decided to join Mirai no Mori’s LIT program after hearing about it from his care worker. He instantly became interested in the fact that it was a great environment for him to be exposed to a new world, and ended up joining for 3 years.
Joining Mirai no Mori’s LIT Program
Takuya decided to join the LIT program even though he had not participated in any Mirai no Mori programs before. Takuya later reflected on his first session, when everything was new and strange to him, “I was so overwhelmed by the energy of the diverse and global staff.” Yet, he also found himself excited and motivated to challenge himself. He quickly found a new world through the outdoor-focused activities and the global staff with various professions, backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives. These activities and role models opened up a world completely different from the one he knew. Takuya spent the first two years of the program contributing as a member of the LIT team, and fulfilling the roles his senior LITs had assigned to him. In his third year of the program, Takuya felt that he had built enough experience working as a team member and decided to take on the role of leader. “I had two years to learn from the leadership of those older than me, so in my last year, I wanted to become a leader and learn first-hand what leadership means,” Takuya explained.
Takuya became the leader of Mirai no Mori’s LITs with eight students from three different care homes. Each participant brought a strong sense of individuality, making decision making and working as a team a bigger challenge than Takuya had expected. A care worker from Takuya’s care home said, “Throughout Takuya’s 16-year experience living in care homes, he’s often been surrounded by adults that provided ongoing support as well as older children who’ve been there to show him what to do. The care home, as well as his school, holds several events and activities, but he has not had many opportunities to think on his own, to make decisions for himself, and to play a lead role in executing a plan.”
Dealing with the Unexpected
Our 4-night 5-day Summer Camp is a major event, especially for the LITs. They were given responsibilities for a variety of tasks; such as assisting in camp kitchen, playing roles in assemblies, and being in charge of some camp activities and games.
For Takuya, an important learning experience came during the obstacle game that the LIT team was asked to lead. Just before the activity was scheduled to start, the team realized that they had not given themselves enough time to prepare, and did not have all the equipment they needed. However, rather than taking the lead and working as a team, Takuya began to look for the equipment all by himself, leaving his team on their own and losing sight of the situation at hand. The activity was delayed and it was clear that the LITs had not successfully worked as a team. Looking back, the camp activity leader said that “there were several ways he could have managed the situation better. He could have asked others to look for the equipment or come to me for advice, but I don’t think he had the capacity or mindset at the time.”
During monthly programs, Takuya had shown the ability to communicate, prioritize and make decisions, and lead the team. However, he had difficulty when things didn’t go as planned or when there was a disagreement amongst the team members. And when those disagreements happened, Takuya could sense the team’s frustration, but he did not have the ability to manage the situation, leading to the same issue being discussed repeatedly and further increasing the tension within the team. “There were so many times I felt like giving up because I didn’t understand how to become a leader,” Takuya reflected.
The Biggest Hurdle Yet
Takuya’s struggle with finding his own leadership style hit a low point during the planning of their final project. For their final project, the LITs needed to come up with an idea on what they wanted to do, create a plan, and execute it all on their own. This process required not only problem-solving, communication, and project management skills, but also required very strong teamwork. Takuya and the team disagreed on ideas and priorities several times during the process, so the project kept stalling. It seemed uncertain whether or not they would be able to complete the final project at all. He tried a different leadership style than he saw during his first and second years as LIT, only to realize that it did not quite fit him. And now, as a supposed leader of LITs, he found himself losing sight of the bigger picture and trying to take on all of the team’s tasks by himself. At one point, it was pointed out that the group appeared leaderless and Takuya, overwhelmed with frustration, broke into tears.
Learning through Trial and Error
Despite the struggle and the frustration, Takuya did not give up and kept trying at every opportunity he received. It took him over six months, but by December the LITs had finally started to act as a team. Takuya was able to step up by assigning roles to his team members to fit their unique strengths, creating synergy as a team. During the January winter camp, LITs were able to demonstrate their improved communication skills and worked as a true team. Takuya commented, “Despite the many small mistakes I made, I was really happy that we were all able to help one another and, in the end, the campers, care home staff, and the LITs were all able to have fun together.”
One of the care workers from his home commented on his progress: “Takuya is a hard-worker who even at the care home would often get carried away with the tasks before him, losing sight of those around him. I think he learned through the LIT program how to focus on his priorities while taking the time to consider the needs of those around him. He also learned several different approaches to leadership and problem-solving. Of course, he has more to learn, but I am excited to see him continue to develop by using what he has learned through this program.”
Takuya’s Journey Continues
Looking back on the past three years, Takuya now describes himself as the type of leader who takes various opinions into account and works patiently with others toward a goal. At the LIT graduation ceremony in March, Takuya said “I have learned a lot over the past three years, but the biggest change is that I can now speak in front of people. I also learned the challenges of being a leader, and I began to understand my leadership style. There were several times I wanted to give up, but I am glad that I made it through all three years.” A Mirai no Mori camp staff member, who has worked with Takuya for the past three years, comments proudly, “It is great to hear Takuya sharing very specifically what he has experienced and learned through this program. He has made the skills and knowledge he gained here his own. Because of his strong commitment to his goals and learning over the past three years, Takuya is now graduating as a confident young man.”
Just as other 18-year-olds in the care system, Takuya is now leaving his care home and will start living independently. The transition from a care home to independent life will require him to be responsible for every aspect of his life, building new relationships, continuing with his education, and addressing any issues that may come up. Takuya, who has worked hard to gain the skills needed for independence through trial and error, is well-equipped to face these challenges.
“This April, I start my new life as a university student. I am interested in English and can even say that I am good at it, so I am entering the Faculty of Foreign Languages. While studying English at school, I look forward to interacting with international students and international teachers. Through Mirai no Mori, I tried so many activities that helped broaden my perspective. I want to do the same in university and plan on volunteering and joining clubs to continue to learn and grow,” Takuya said.
As he steps into a new stage of his life, this transition also marks a milestone for Mirai no Mori as we celebrate the graduation of the first generation of LITs who have helped build the foundation of this program. They have inspired many younger campers, and the next generation of children is already awaiting becoming LITs. Mirai no Mori will continue to improve and deliver our programs, so that Takuya and his fellow LIT graduates can come back as role models and continue to inspire younger children and youths in the care homes.