“Community Interpreter” Utilizing Language Skills to Support Children with Foreign Roots

Leveraging the language skills developed through our work and living experiences abroad, we act as “Community Interpreter” to support children with foreign roots living in Japan.

What is “Community Interpreter”?

In 2023, Sumitomo Corporation started sending staff members who can speak special languages to educational facilities that need interpreters. This initiative is conducted in cooperation with the Citizen’s Network for Global Activities (CINGA), which coordinates the assignment of minor language interpreters.
“My son is struggling to adapt to life and studies in a Japanese school and is becoming reluctant to attend. Please help us!” This request, which came from the mother of a family who had evacuated from Ukraine in December 2022, served as a catalyst for collaboration between Sumitomo Corporation and CINGA. As part of the 100SEED activities, a team of seven staff members visited the child’s elementary school by turns for four months.

Support that only we can provide

After taking seminars on the role of a community interpreter and precautions, the members began providing assistance to the Russian-speaking third grader. They took turns visiting his school in the morning on weekdays. In addition to translating during class, they also joined him at break times to help him communicate smoothly with his classmates.

As time passed, the boy’s Japanese improved, his relationships with his classmates deepened, and he began to enjoy his school life. The participating members were greatly impressed by his transformation. The goal was for him to become self-reliant enough to attend school independently, and it’s safe to say that this goal was thoroughly achieved. For the many employees troubled by the war between Ukraine and Russia, this became a unique way to contribute to society.

Creating a system to realize quick support

Through this activity, we not only provided support to the child and his family, but also gained the trust of CINGA, the school, and even the municipality, paving the way for future collaborations.
Going forward, we will continue discussions with CINGA on what Sumitomo Corporation can do to assist in creating a system for identifying children with foreign roots who are facing difficulties and providing them with the necessary support.
In the fall of 2023, we started “Community Interpreter” using Chinese. As a company that has many staff members capable of speaking different languages, “Community Interpreter” enables us to use our skills to give back to the community in a unique way.

Message from a participating staff member

Naoki Matsumoto, AgriScience Dept.

During the activity, there were three scenes in particular that I will never forget. The first was an internal meeting after the first visit. We all shared the understanding that he wasn’t refusing to go to school, he was just uncertain about what to do. That clarified our role and served as the starting point of our activities.

Naoki Matsumoto, AgriScience Dept.

The second was the changes we saw in the child. In Russian, there are two ways to address someone: “Ty” for friends and “Vy” for elders and superiors. Initially, he called me “Vy,” but after about a month, he started calling me “Ty.” After that, he began proactively asking questions and even hugged me. I felt that he opened up to me. I started correcting his more selfish behavior, and we were gradually open to speak with each other.

The third was when we were invited to the elementary school’s sports festival. I cheered for him along with the other local volunteers and staff members who participated in the project, and even an acquaintance from my time in Russia who happened to have a daughter in the same school. In that moment, it truly felt like a family, and I believe that day was the culmination of “Community Interpreting” for all of us including the child.

Thanks to the 100SEED initiative, I could engage in social contribution activities during working hours, using my language skills for an activity outside of my job. I am grateful to the company for providing such opportunities. If the chance arises, I would definitely like to get involved again.

Project members also participated in practice sessions for the sports festival.
Sitting next to the children during classes, the project members gradually grew closer to them.

To ensure this remains a beneficial activity for everyone involved

Since its establishment in 2004, CINGA has operated without relying on donations, which is why we’ve had limited opportunities to collaborate with businesses in the past. However, through the sending of your company’s staff members as community interpreters, we have come to recognize the value of partnering with companies for social contribution activities. In particular, finding volunteers who are proficient in minority languages, possess excellent cross-cultural understanding, and can visit schools during weekdays on a consistent basis while covering their own transportation expenses is extremely difficult. Collaborating with Sumitomo Corporation’s passionate team members, who support education and contribute to society, was a groundbreaking development for us.
To ensure that this remains a win-win-win endeavor for the children we support, our NPO, and all the Sumitomo Corporation team members involved, and to further align each individual casework with social work, we look forward to ongoing discussions on how we can collaborate in the future.

CINGA Website: https://www.cinga.or.jp/

Ms. Midori Nii
Coordinator, Citizen’s Network for Global Activities (CINGA)

Related Information

Educational Support for a Multicultural Society

December 2023