The dream to serve Fiji

Listen to this article:

Yuko Hirai showcases origami art made by Golden Age Home residents. Picture: SUPPLIED

Leaving behind your comfort zone, filled with familiar people and places, is often a daunting task.

Yet, having a dream means one often must take that leap of faith to reap rewards.

This is exactly the kind of challenge that Yuko Hirai has taken on board.

The 37-year-old from Kyoto, Japan, works as a geriatric care worker and volunteers at the Samabula Golden Age Home under the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

She has been involved in caregiving for the past 12 years and was recruited under the JICA Volunteer Program for two years. Ms Hirai said volunteering in Fiji was one of her biggest dreams.

“I grew up in the countryside of Kyoto, Japan,” she said.

“There was the ocean in front of my house and mountains behind my house. The sea and the mountains were my playground.”

Ms Hirai was raised in an extended family, surrounded by her grandparents, parents and older brother.

Her grandfather was a farmer and fisherman while her grandmother was a kimono weaver.

Her dad was an interior decorator, and her mother was a caregiver. After graduating from high school, she left home to attend a vocational school and later worked as a caregiver for about 10 years.

“I became a caregiver because my father had a stroke, and my mother was a caregiver. I became interested in volunteering abroad as a Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteer (JOCV) when I saw a in a book a picture of a girl living in a trash heap, in a developing country, 15 years ago.

“From that moment on, I wondered what I could do to contribute to society.

“In a book, I read about Fiji. I learned that a Fijian woman had been praying for Japan since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which inspired me to pray for the people of Fiji and the world.”

Ms Hirai’s day begins with prayers and meditation to give her a healthy mind, body and soul.

“At work, I assist residents with eating, guiding them to the bathroom, and other activities of daily living. I also provide exercises, teach art and craft, and other fun activities for the residents.”

In the weekends, she works with other JOCVs to repair wheelchairs.

“One of the most enjoyable things for me is to eat a meal with someone and say how delicious it is or to laugh together. I feel the important thing in life is to realise the happiness I already have.”

Even though the volunteer experience is one she deeply cherishes, Ms Hirai admitted that sometimes, it was tough being away from home.

“I have cried due to stress and homesickness caused by environmental changes. My colleagues and residents comforted and hugged me.

“They made me realise that love can be communicated without words. I was touched by the warmth of their hearts and helped by their kindness and compassion.

“Although there are many confusing situations, people living in Fiji accept each other’s differences, such as race and religion, and coexist in harmony. I have a lot to learn from them.”

Serving in Fiji has been Ms Hirai’s biggest dreams and she thanks the Fiji Government, Golden Age Home, JICA, and her family for making that come true. She looks forward to share her skills with the people of Fiji.

“My volunteer work reminds me that there is no such thing as one-sided assistance.

“We are helping and learning from each other. I have had the most wonderful experience through this activity.”