NPO Celebrates 10 Years of Empowering Marginalized Youth in Japan

By Gabriela Nakano
Mirai no Mori

During its 10th year of operations and after overcoming the obstacles of the pandemic, Mirai no Mori celebrated in its Annual Report the results of another year of supporting young people in need. So far, the NPO has welcomed almost 3,000 children living in care homes to life-changing outdoors programs. Empowerment is a long-term mission that requires trust and continuity, both of which Mirai no Mori is building across a wide range of members of this community. 

In principle, at age 18 and upon graduation from high school, children must leave their care homes and live independently, managing every aspect of their lives. Mirai no Mori utilizes the outdoors as one of the main tools to impart the skills necessary to navigate this abrupt change by providing an environment that, different from society, does not judge: rain or shine, nature will act the same to everyone with no discrimination. The organization builds programs around the idea of a break from the negative cycle of events that these children live on a daily basis, and an equal playing field where they can redefine and rediscover themselves; open their minds up to new ideas and values; and learn to think and act on their own. Essentially, Mirai no Mori puts effort into implementing a new mindset that will empower these marginalized young people to overcome the challenges of independence and build a fruitful future for themselves.

Mirai no Mori campers participating in a forest activity

Mirai no Mori’s relationship with the children does not stop at the age of 18. From the time when campers enter high school, they have the chance to join the organization’s Leader in Training (LIT) program, focused on self-improvement and skill development in preparation for independence. Last year, over 30 LIT programs were hosted. Once they graduate, these now young adults participate in Mirai no Mori activities as volunteers, acting as role models for the campers. Last year, in addition to joining the Summer Camp and Snow Program as volunteers, graduates participated in the Winter Party and made speeches to our supporters, acting as the voice of the community they come from.

A unique aspect of Mirai no Mori’s setup is the involvement of the care home workers in all of their programs. An ongoing and increasing difficulty observed in the care home system is a labor shortage, on top of new labor policies that restrict care homes from freely creating shifts. No matter how hard care workers try, the system has created a big limitation to the quality of the care that can be provided to the children, whose well-being is on the line. Children express that adults seem too busy and unavailable for a talk due to how busy they become. Mirai no Mori aims to flip this narrative: at programs, care workers are “Big Campers” and their sole responsibility is to have fun. Until now, around 700 care workers joined the outdoor programs, creating opportunities for them to not only re-energize, but also interact with the children in a new way. 

In our programs, campers tend to behave differently than usual, which even surprises their care workers. They may help in the kitchen, eat their food without a fuss, speak in front of people, or complete an 8-kilometer hike on their own. At Mirai no Mori, this is called “Camp Magic,” which signifies that the children are truly being themselves and demonstrating their own ability and potential. Mirai no Mori’s ultimate goal is for campers, LITs, graduates, and even care workers to bring the “Camp Magic” back home, acting as a form of empowerment and belief in a bright future. 

Please be part of our Camp Magic and get involved in the Mirai no Mori mission!

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