Voices That Care
Say Hello to ... Kanta
Every single person in Care2Run’s ecosystem is essential, and we’ve grown so much in three years thanks to all the different individuals who’ve played a part in getting us to where we are.
It is for this reason that we aim to hand this section over to our people – our participants, coaches, volunteers, parents, friends and loved ones – so they can tell you what Care2Run means to them.
This week we say hello to ….. Kanta Okagawa, a volunteer from Japan who spent six weeks as an intern with Care2Run.
FOR six weeks, Kanta interned with Care2Run and he says that even though he sometimes felt out of his depth, he would jump at the chance to return to Malaysia and work with us again.
Being a huge foodie, Kanta is quick to mention food when asked about the highlights of his recent trip.
“I miss the curry laksa now that I am home,” laughs the young man who hails from Tokyo and studies Marketing and Commerce at Hitotsubashi University. “But I miss my friends more,” he adds.
Kanta, who is a volunteer with AIESEC – an organisation which provides young people with leadership and volunteer exchange experiences across the globe – was tasked with mentoring a youth as soon as he arrived in Kuala Lumpur. And, as he tells us, that that experience was nothing short of rewarding.
Hello Kanta. Can you share with us how you learnt about Care2Run?
Hi there. Well, AIESEC had advertised about certain programmes and opportunities in Malaysia and that’s how I heard about Care2Run. There were many options. I’d already done some voluntary work in India and I’d worked with an organisation in Japan that helped underprivileged children, so I wanted to try something else.
Over the last year, I’d also developed a keen interest in para-sports and I wanted to learn and improve in that area. In Japan, there has been a push for more understanding and awareness of para-sports because of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, which will be held after the Tokyo Olympic Games. That’s one of the reasons I picked Care2Run. Another reason was that even though there were many programmes that interested me – like programmes which dealt with poverty in Cambodia or clean water in Africa – I knew that even if I didn’t sign up for those, there would be many other volunteers who’d get involved. Care2Run, on the other hand, was a place where I thought I could really make a difference.
Did you speak to any of the AISEC volunteers who’d helped us out last year when we were preparing for Bursa Bull Charge 2018 before deciding on joining Care2Run?
Yes. But to be honest, they were not full-time interns so they were only able to tell me very little. I think I know a lot more now after my six weeks here.
Did you enjoy your experience with Care2Run? What aspects did you find challenging?
I did enjoy it but the first few weeks were very challenging for me because I was paired with a young person with learning differences. It was tough trying to understand his challenges and I started by trying to mentor and teach him. But every time I tried to impart some knowledge, he resisted. He would get annoyed. And because of that, I would get frustrated.
After the first three weeks, I consulted with an expert in psychology and she opened my eyes. She told me, “Kanta, you’re not a teacher. You shouldn’t try to teach. Be a friend to him and listen. And share your experiences as a friend.” I took her advice and from that moment onwards, my relationship with my mentee changed.
I learned that there are many roles to fill but not every one of us is equipped to be teachers and I discovered that what my mentee wanted was a friend. We all need people to guide us. But in Coach Greg and Coach Prem, he already had teachers. What he saw in me was someone who could be a friend to him, and I realised that that role of “friend” was very, very important.
You also helped facilitate some of the familiarisation sessions for the upcoming Junior Leaders Programme. What was that experience like?
That was fun. I didn’t find that role difficult. But I did find my one-on-one job coaching and mentoring experience with my mentee very challenging. I feel there are so many young people who need job coaches, or even just a friend to connect with them regularly after the Sunday sessions and I think that if Care2Run can do that, then we can make an even bigger impact on their lives. However, one of the challenges we face is that we don’t have enough volunteers. We need a large pool of mentors and volunteers to be able to achieve that.
After spending six weeks here, would you want to come back to Malaysia?
Yes, definitely. I would like to work with Care2Run again. And I would like to see my friends. When I was leaving, my mentee wanted to send me off and he said he would miss me. I definitely miss him too. Communicating with him was not always easy but it was very rewarding. He loves classical music and old movies and he would make me listen to songs. I didn’t understand what the songs were about but it was nice to share those things with him. But perhaps the best thing for me happened during my last week in Malaysia when I shared with my mentee about my trip to the United States. I spent one month travelling in the US alone and I visited Los Angeles, Las Vegas and many other places and I told him about my experiences. When I finished, he said to me, “Kanta, I want to be like you and travel on my own.” That, to me, was the most rewarding, not because he said he wanted to be like me, but because this was the first time that I could see him looking forward with hope.
What are your aspirations for Care2Run?
When I spoke to Prem, he outlined a five-to-ten year plan for Care2run to grow and impact many people. I fully support that. But we must never forget that no matter how big we become, Care2Run is about caring about individuals. We should always maintain that human connection and make sure we don’t forget the small things that will help get us to our big goal.