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MINISTER of Community Development Emerine Kabanshi, JICA resident representative Hisanao Noda and Japanese ambassador Hidenobu Sobashima tour stands during International Volunteer’s Day at Pamodzi Hotel in Lusaka.

Appreciating work of volunteers

SAORI Matsuo, a Japanese volunteer based at Nakoli Health Centre in Kabwe, is seemingly at home in Zambia; she is able to greet and introduce herself in Bemba, one of the local languages.
Ms Matsuo is among the 76 Japanese volunteers rendering their services to the needy in both rural and urban Zambia.
She was recently in Lusaka at the invitation of Japanese International Co-operation Agency (JICA) during the commemoration of International Day of Volunteers.
She was given 15 minutes to talk about her work in the country but failed to do so within the allocated time because she simply had too much to talk about.
But one thing is certain; she enjoys her work as a volunteer.
“I come from Katsuyama town in Okayama prefecture in Japan which has a population of 1,000 people in an area of 140 square kilometres, 85 percent of this area is a forest,” she introduced herself during the International Day of Volunteers commemorations that were recently held at Pamodzi Hotel in Lusaka.
Ms Matsuo previously worked as midwife in Tokyo before coming here as a volunteer under the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers Programme (JOCV), which is one of the principal activities of JICA as part of its international co-operation carried out on behalf of the Japanese government.
It was established in 1965 to provide official Japanese technical assistance programmes abroad at grassroots level.
Ms Matsuo lives in Kabwe with a Zambian family while working at Nakoli Health Centre, located about five kilometres from Kabwe town in a high-density township with a population of 10, 700 people within a catchment area of 2.5 square kilometres.
At Nakoli Health Centre, Ms Matsuo assists the facility in nearly all sections, especially the maternal and child health section, where the community improve under-five growth through initiatives such as the feeding programme, establishing cooking demonstrations and gardening to enhance their nutrition status.
“One of the common challenges at Nakoli health facility among children is diarrheoa and underweight, because of this, we’re trying new ways of helping mothers improve feeding and maintain hygiene,” she says.
Ms Matsuo says sanitation is one of the challenges that she faces living and working in Nakoli.
She says poor sanitation is a major contributor of diarrheal diseases among people, especially children. Most families in this part of Kabwe use water from the wells, most of which is not safe.
Ms Matsuo has also been encouraging women that come to the health facility to ensure they maintain hygiene and sanitation to avoid the recurrent outbreak of disease. Sometimes, she is involved in door-to-door health education outreach programmes.
It is in recognition of the work that the likes of Ms Matsuo do that every November 5, their efforts are celebrated through the International Volunteer Day.
This year’s International ‘Volunteers Day was dubbed “Global Applause: Give Volunteers a Hand’.
JICA, in appreciating the work by volunteers, held a media breakfast where Ms Matsuo had the honour to share her experience as volunteer in Zambia.
“We commend volunteers all over the world who are already making a difference in a changing world and showing the power of volunteerism to move towards sustainable development,” Minister of Community Development and Social Welfare Emerine Kabanshi said at the event.
Ms Kabanshi said there is need to celebrate the efforts of volunteers as a way of encouraging them, noting that they are usually the first on the ground and the last to leave in emergency relief efforts.
“Volunteers tend not to leave anyone behind, by reaching out to people especially the marginalised groups in our societies or in hard-to-reach areas,” she said.
Ms Kabanshi, whose ministry is responsible for all volunteers in the country, highlighted the sacrifices volunteers make, especially those that come from faraway places.
“We understand these men and women leave the comfort of their homes and everything that is culturally inclined to them to answer a calling to provide skills as they extend a hand of friendship to people in Zambia,” she said.
For JICA, its volunteers in the country are usually deployed in different sectors of the economy such as agriculture, education, environmental conservation, health and social protection.
Its mission, other than contributing to the socio-economic development of developing countries, also includes strengthening friendship and mutual understanding between developing countries and Japan.
Japanese ambassador to Zambia Hidenobu Sobashima wants to further build on this. He will work closely with Japanese experts, volunteers, NGOs and companies in Zambia to advance bilateral relations in such fields as Official Development Assistant (ODA), trade and investment.
“I understand that currently the numbers of the JOCVs sent by JICA total about 100 and are stationed throughout the country for co-operation in various fields. I am proud of such an extensive level of people-to-people exchange and co-operation between our two countries,” Mr Sobashima said.
JICA resident representative Hisanao Noda, who was also a volunteer in Zambia, has his own story to tell.
“We have been working in Zambia since 1970s and our very first programme involved the dispatch of volunteers. Since then, more than 1,400 volunteers have worked at grass root level,” Mr Noda says.
“My volunteer experience dates back to 1989 when I worked as a science teacher at Serenje Boys Secondary School in Central Province.
“Today I speak as a person who has experienced volunteer work and indeed this theme is befitting of these noble men and women who dedicate their time to sharing skills and knowledge with communities that in some instances draw life-saving lessons for the benefit of humanity.”
JICA currently has 76 volunteers who are serving in various institutions across the country.