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Kozue Oka shares the story of Mirai no Mori

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Kozue recounts with a smile about how her own mother worked with learning disabled and autistic children. Growing up always hearing that “It was really tough, but very rewarding,” she knew she wanted to do something similar, with a tangible result for those around her.

And after her sister came back from studying abroad, Kozue was envious of her ability to communicate with so many people in English. This inspired her to learn English on her own, with the encouragement of her good rapport with her school English teacher.

Kozue always enjoyed playing outside as a child, and studying Liberal Arts at Chuo University, she discovered Environmental Education. She had the opportunity to experience it first hand while studying abroad during her Junior year in Stockholm, Sweden. “Swedish people keep nature really close to their hearts,” something she hopes Japanese people can appreciate too.

She participated in her first English Adventure camp as a staff member, and saw how the campers were all really open from the beginning. The second camp she joined was for Mirai no Mori, still a fledgling project at this time, to create life-changing outdoor programs for abused, neglected, and orphaned Japanese children. Immediately she saw the difference between the children, noting it was more challenging for the Mirai no Mori children to open up, get engaged, and participate in activities. But in time, and with other camp leader’s help, Kozue learned how to engage them in the best way possible.

As Graduation neared, Kozue received a full-time offer from English Adventure, where she joined and spent most of her time working on the Mirai no Mori project. That summer, managing her first camp, she recalls how her colleague Jeff helped her learn how to deal with the unexpected things, and learning to work flexibly.

Kozue became a full timer in Spring 2015, and then Mirai no Mori became a Nintei-status NPO in January 2016. Kozue was now running Mirai no Mori, and balancing the managerial, fundraising – enjoying the challenge, but lamenting that it left less time to connect with the campers face-to-face.

Last Year, the Knights in White Lycra’s first year to support Mirai no Mori, Kozue cycled on a borrowed bike, taking long lunches, and frequent stops as part of the “Enjoy the Ride” Team.

Not so this year, where our very own Sal will no doubt thrash his team into making a world-beating record among the Knights.

Kozue’s face lights up, as she explains about Camp Magic, the combination of the children, camp leaders, great outdoors, and the international setting. And that once Camp Magic is created, it can last for a child’s lifetime. “They can look back and hold on to those memories,” she says, noting, that care home workers who accompany the children to the camps can also see new ways of interacting with the children, and bring that magic back to their care homes to share with other children.

A big part of Camp Magic is that it is sustainable and makes a long-term impact, not just as a one-off camp.

That’s why, rather than focusing on a single summer camp for the children, Mirai no Mori looks to the Knights in White Lycra to sponsor the three years’ of Winter Camps for 25 children, and to corporate donors to sponsor day camps throughout the year. “We look for multi-year repeat campers, because then the campers can really grow at their own pace and grow deeply,” Kozue tells us.

Kozue tells the Knights “I want them to believe in the camp magic that we all create together. That their support is not just a one-off: it may change the course of the children’s lives. I want them to believe in the power we have if we put our hearts together.” Emphasizing her huge appreciation for what the Knights have devoted so much of their own time and money to. “And, at the destination of the main ride, it’s just great. I look forward to seeing the riders interacting with the kids. The riders will know how much their time and effort really helped. That’s really powerful.”

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