RET Japan is a Japanese humanitarian non-for-profit organisation, committed to working in emergencies and fragile environments in Asia and around the world to ensure the protection and resilience of vulnerable young people through education.
Who We AreA Japanese Humanitarian Organisation
RET Japan is a humanitarian organisation, based in Tokyo, founded in 2015. We are affiliated to RET International, our parent organisation, headquartered in Switzerland and founded by Mrs Sadako Ogata.
In 2000, when Mrs Sadako Ogata founded our parent organisation RET International, she was ending her second term as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Her vision for RET was to bridge a massive gap she had witnessed during her tenure as the head of the UN Refugee Agency: basic education for youth during emergencies and crises.
RET’s work, based on her vision, flourished and expanded around the world. From its early beginnings in Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Pakistan, RET grew to encompass a total of 28 countries in crisis and developed a complete set of approaches to protect vulnerable young people and women.
From left to right: Mr Anne-Willem Bijleveld (Chairman of the RET Board) Mrs Sadako Ogata (Founder of RET International), Ms Zeynep Gündüz (CEO of RET International), Mr Genta Akasaki (RET Japan Representative)
In 2015, time had come to transform a long lasting friendship between RET and Japan into a more official relationship, one that would enable concrete actions to protect the lives of vulnerable young people around the world.
RET Japan is the result of this step forward and is designed to allow Japan’s unique strengths in innovation, technology and organisation to unite with RET International’s global experience and together tackle the world’s most pressing problems.
RET Japan, through programmes in the field, awareness-raising activities and an initial period of training and learning from RET International’s experience, offers a chance for the Japanese population and professionals to carry even further Mrs Sadako Ogata’s vision, to alleviate suffering in the regions of crisis and to become key actors in the field of humanitarian action.
This is a challenge, but we can count on many fantastic individuals who have privately supported our mission throughout the years, particularly in our work for young women. Also, the organisation Sacred Heart for RET (SHRET), created by students from the University of the Sacred Heart (from which Mrs Sadako Ogata graduated) has since 2003 been dedicated to RET’s cause and works to raise awareness of the plight of displaced youth and the need to protect them through education. Together, we work on an awareness-raising and advocacy campaign throughout Japan. We view the SHRET advocates as RET Youth Ambassadors.
Bridging the Gaps between Humanitarian Action & DevelopmentClear Solutions to a Complex Problem
Education As a Tool for Protection & DevelopmentRET Japan provides education in emergencies; we protect while paving the way towards social cohesion, resilience, peace and prosperity
Youth As Key Actors of Positive ChangeYouth are positive actors during a crisis while also representing the future of their communities
What We DoProtecting young people and young women through education
RET Japan is committed to working in emergencies and fragile environments around the world to ensure the protection and resilience of vulnerable young people through education.
Protecting Vulnerable Young People
As a humanitarian organisation the primary service we provide is protection, but what sets us apart is the population we focus on, young people, and the primary tool we use, education.
We are therefore committed to assist communities meet the educational needs, in the broadest sense, of young people made vulnerable by displacement, violence, armed conflict and disasters. Among young people, RET has grown especially concerned with the plight of young women, who have become one of your key beneficiary populations in all contexts.
During crises, donor priorities were traditionally given to life-saving basic needs such as food, water, shelter and child protection. Budgets rarely stretched far enough to reach the needs of young people. This had tragic consequences as crises tend to be evermore protracted, often lasting for years or even decades. In UNHCR’s 2015 Global Trends it is estimated that the majority of refugees of protracted crises spend 20 years or more in exile. During this time, if adolescents and youth are not given any educational opportunities they will become extremely vulnerable to illegal activities, gangs, underage labour, drug trafficking, sexual abuse, sex trafficking, violence and more. Education is what provides them with the skills to confront these threats and develop their resilience. Education is a truly efficient and sustainable protection mechanism in these fragile environments.
RET Japan therefore provides Relief & Resilience through Education in Transition, which explains our acronym:
Empowering Young Women
RET’s programmes focus on young people in general. However, we do believe that by working consistently with vulnerable young women and mothers, our programmes not only respond to pressing needs, but also have a greater impact and effectiveness. Young women and mothers are amongst the most vulnerable in crises, but are also often heads of households and play essential roles in the lives of children, youth and the family unit as a whole.
A person’s gender still greatly affects their opportunities and achievements. The social, economic and cultural development of societies has created different gender roles, which are in most cases advantageous to men and detrimental to women. This gap widens in fragile contexts, as evidence shows that masculinities and femininities are heightened during a crisis. Also, when general violence in communities rises there is a noted increase in gender-based violence. The use of rape as a weapon, as well as forced early marriages, are amongst the most notorious examples.
Therefore, focusing on young women, adolescent mothers, women heads of households, young widows is vital in the perspective of addressing the most pressing needs. However, the logic for focusing on women goes beyond this question of vulnerability; it is also an issue of impact and effectiveness. Targeting young women has far reaching positive impacts as they are very often at the heart of the family, influence children’s education, play important roles in health, nutrition as well as household management and income. The more education a woman has, the better the opportunities for the children and the families as a whole. The return on investment of working to protect young women through education is therefore extremely high.
Bridging the Gaps Between Humanitarian and Development Assistance
Crises rarely have clearly defined end dates when humanitarian actors can leave and development work begins. Crises may last for years or even decades and the transition period between crisis and development is often impossible to define and thus extremely difficult to address.
For a transition from crisis to stable societies to occur, the main actors and tools need to be similar in both contexts. This is ultimately what bridges the gaps in knowhow and methods between these two different types of aid provided by the international community, governments or local communities.
This is what RET Japan’s mandate sets out to do.
RET works specifically with young people, and this is crucial. Young people are already potential actors during a crisis, while also representing the future of their communities. They have important roles in both the present and the future, which is less the case of other demographic groups such as children and the elderly.
The second specificity of RET’s mandate is to use the tool of education to protect during crises and emergencies. By using education at an early stage during the crisis, RET not only protects, but also lays the foundations for the educational interventions of the future. This is key as education is universally recognised as one of the most important long-term development tools. At RET we use education to protect and build the resilience of communities, which leads to the necessary conditions for development policies to take hold.
RET therefore works with the key cohort among the populations at risk (young people) and employs the right lifesaving tool (education) to propose efficient strategies to bridge the gaps between humanitarian relief and development aid. This makes our mandate not only unique, but essential and lifesaving.
How We Do It
In stable contexts, formal education is usually the main pillar of education and is what we instinctively think of as education. However, in emergencies, the formal education system is often dysfunctional or completely non-existent. When vast numbers are displaced, the hosting government may not include refugees, nor have the adequate educational infrastructure to accommodate them. These contexts create the need for a wide range of approaches to respond to the specific and acute needs of young people, may they be vulnerable members of the host community or refugees. This is why we consider education “in the broadest sense”.
Approaches Helping Young People Cope with Emergencies
Psychosocial support helps learners cope with the traumas through which they have lived. If the psychological state of young people is not addressed either through individual therapy or group support, it will be extremely difficult for them to overcome the risks inherent to fragile environments and develop the necessary skills to protect themselves.
Life skills are abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable young people to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life. For RET this has often meant providing trainings with basic life-saving information in fields such as health, prevention of gender-based violence or landmine awareness.
Approaches Maintaining Access to Quality School Environments
RET provides formal education by running schools based on official national curricula or by facilitating the access to recognised or state-run schools. There is equally often a need for accelerated learning programmes for young people who are over-aged for their level as a result of their flight and exile. RET also manages scholarship programmes for tertiary education.
The non-formal education provided by RET offers basic skills such as literacy and numeracy, catch-up courses to enable young people to re-integrate into local school systems, as well as, language courses. For those who have been displaced, mastering the local language is key to integrating local educational systems and communities. Even if these courses are not part of the official national curriculum, RET always makes sure they meet the standards of, or are accredited by, institutions such as UNESCO or the INEE network, the local host government’s or the home country’s Ministries of Education. We make the extra effort to have them recognised by local authorities and the international community.
Building the capacity of local educational assets in fragile environments is an indirect, but extremely efficient way of ensuring the presence of meaningful educational opportunities for vulnerable youth, while also strengthening the educational environments for the children and youth of the host community. This implies improving local school administration, engaging in teacher training and professional development, mainstreaming disaster risk reduction in educational programmes as well as the construction, renovation and provision of equipment in order to create safe and learner-friendly environments.
Approaches Allowing Youth to Lead Their Communities towards Stability and Development
Livelihoods & Employability
Skills that will enable young people to attain self-reliance are what will ultimately provide them with a more secure and stable situation during crises. In certain contexts, where jobs may be available, RET will provide vocational courses in trades or support apprenticeship schemes matching young people with existing local businesses. RET’s entrepreneurship training enables young people who may have developed a small business to make it prosper. For those who are starting from scratch, our small business training courses help them create a small enterprise through collective strategies. Finally, technical training is used to move young people with a secondary education further along the path to employability, by providing them with concrete marketable skills like computer literacy or administration.
Ultimately, RET aims to build a world in which the actions of empowered young people lead their communities out of crisis and towards stronger social cohesion, peace and prosperity. To help young people become such actors of positive social change, RET has developed a series of educational training courses focused on responsible citizenship, youth-adult partnerships or awareness of rights – children’s rights, women’s rights, refugee rights. These all provide young people with the keys to participate in their community’s affairs. Leadership training is also essential for young people to be capable of creating youth-led community assets-based projects or successfully administer grassroots youth groups and associations.
RET Youth Ambassadors: a Bridge between Japan and the FieldsAwareness raising activity with Japanese youth on young people made vulnerable in fragile situations
Interventions that Accompany Communities out of CrisesWe respond to immediate life-saving needs, while also providing young people and their communities with the skills to move out of emergencies and towards development.
Education in the Broadest SenseWhen we think of education, our horizon should not be limited to formal classroom education.
Where We WorkJapan, Switzerland, Turkey, Lebanon, Chad & Beyond…
RET Japan’s presence is not only in Japan, but also in Africa, Europe and the Middle East, where we are active through awareness raising, on-the-ground operations and by learning from RET International’s approaches and experience.
RET Japan has been closely collaborating with students from the University of the Sacred Heart in Tokyo for advocacy activities in Japan. This is the university from which RET’s Founder, Mrs Sadako Ogata, graduated.
As a part of its advocacy activities, RET Japan visited high schools affiliated to the University of the Sacred Heart in the Hokkaido, Tokyo, Shizuoka and Hyogo prefectures. Through awareness-raising activities, we presented the importance of working with youth and how we operate various programmes on the ground. By so doing, RET Japan shared RET International’s global experiences with Japanese youth, motivating them to, one day, become the actors of Japan’s growing role and expertise in humanitarian assistance.
In July 2016, we reached a new stage in our partnership with Sacred Heart University by signing a memorandum of understanding that outlines the way we will work together to help communities meet the educational needs of young people made vulnerable by displacement, violence, armed conflict and disasters.
The city of Geneva, in Switzerland, is one of the world’s humanitarian capitals. Many United Nations agencies, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, have their headquarters there, as well as other key organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and global humanitarian NGOs. RET Japan’s parent organisation, RET International, has also been based in Geneva since its inception in 2000 from where it has supervised operations in 3 continents, 27 countries, presently involving over 900 team members. RET Japan holds an office in RET International’s headquarters.
In February 2015, ten students of Sacred Heart for RET (SHRET) with Professor Kouji Nakai and Professor Yoshiyuki Nakata, from the University of the Sacred Heart, Tokyo, came to RET International’s headquarters in Geneva for a training on the protection of young people in fragile environments. This training provided by RET International’s staff enabled them to be even more effective in their awareness-raising activities as RET Youth Ambassadors. As a result, soon after, five of these trained RET Youth Ambassadors participated in the United Nations’ World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan (14-18 March).
It is important for RET Japan to have access to Geneva’s numerous international conferences. The office space offered to RET Japan’s staff in RET International’s office in Geneva allows them to do so. Furthermore, at RET International HQ in Geneva, RET Japan’s staff is trained on RET’s methodologies in education in emergencies, after which concrete experience in the field is provided to ensure efficient transfer of knowledge. Through this training and hands-on experience RET Japan’s staff will be able to expand RET’s mandate through its own projects and scale the methodologies developed over the last 15 years.
Due to its border of nearly 900km with Syria, Turkey has been profoundly affected by the Syrian crisis. To date, nearly 3 million Syrian refugees are in Turkey, with 2.7 million already registered. Turkey has become the largest refugee hosting country in history. This influx is so large that the 25 refugee camps built by the Government of Turkey house less than 10% of the Syrian refugee population. The vast majority of refugees are in urban and rural settings. Young refugees in these fragile environments have difficulties accessing education because of language barriers and young women are exposed to gender-based violence. RET International has become heavily involved in the Southeast to address the needs of these vulnerable youth, women and girls.
RET Japan, collaborating with RET International, implemented a project in the southeastern cities of Siverek and Şanlıurfa, from November 2015 to March 2016. Funded by a Japanese NPO, we ran a project to assist vulnerable Syrian and Turkish women in Siverek, where little assistance had been brought. Our programme aimed at providing non-food Items (such as hygiene kits), renovate a safe space for women (a Women’s Cultural Centre run by the local government) and build women’s capacity for peaceful communication.
As many of our programme participants mentioned, tensions between Turkish and Syrian communities was increasing due to a lack of interaction and communication between them. Moreover, because of language barriers, the majority of Syrian women stayed at home with their children, disconnected from any social activity and the host community. This social isolation kept the women extremely vulnerable as they had so few opportunities to socialise.
Throughout the project, we played an important role as a catalyst for Turkish and Syrian communities in terms of social cohesion. The rehabilitated Women’s Cultural Centre was a safe space to socialize and interact with the host community. Many of the programme participants told us that it was the first opportunity for them and their children to have social activities with others, as before they had spent most of their time in their homes.
In addition to the programme in Siverek and Şanlıurfa, another programme was running in Gaziantep, one of the cities hosting the largest Syrian refugee population in Turkey. This programme was funded by the Japanese Embassy in Ankara and aimed to rehabilitate an unused school in order to be able to accommodate Syrian children and youth for Turkish language classes. RET Japan’s staff collaborated with RET International’s local Turkish staff to implement the programme. This was yet another opportunity to train the RET Japan staff on the methods developed by RET International. Such transfer of knowledge will lead to RET Japan being able to become a strong actor dedicated to furthering Mrs Sadako Ogata’s vision of protecting vulnerable young people through education.
The Syrian crisis has added to Lebanon’s already complex situation that includes decades of sectarian tensions with periods of stability and internal turmoil. Lebanon has received over 1.1 million Syrian refugees representing approximately 20% of the total population, of which over 50% are under the age of 18. This proves to be a major difficulty for Lebanon due to its limited resources to provide for both its people and the refugees. Young people in these situations are at high risk of violence, a consequence of situations of crisis and precarious conditions.
In these contexts, youth are unable to access formal schooling and integrate into the job market, making them susceptible to recruitment into armed groups and other harmful practices. Moreover, according the UN, Syrian women in Lebanon are particularly at risk of gender-based violence (GBV) because of the overcrowding and sharing of living spaces with host community families.
In 2015-2016, the Japanese Embassy in Lebanon funded RET Liban’s project in Tripoli (northern Lebanon), renovating a girl’s school substantially. At the completion of the project, it was able to accommodate the secondary education of 600 girls both from Syrian and the host community. RET Japan continues to work with RET Liban in similar projects.
The conflicts in Darfur, Eastern Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR) have caused the displacement of thousands of people. Chad is now hosting over 377’480 Sudanese refugees from Darfur and 100’000 from CAR, mostly in the eastern and southern parts of the country. Over 25% of this population are young people, of which only 5.5% have access to a secondary education. In this setting, RET International provides access to quality formal and non-formal secondary education to young people in Chadian refugee camps. RET International complements this through language, life skills and scholarship programmes, all which have allowed young refugees to have hope, education and a possibility to become positive actors of their communities. RET International has been present in Eastern Chad since 2005 and has recently started working with Sudanese and Central African refugees in the southern part of the country.
As a part of the collaboration between RET Japan and RET International, RET Japan’s staff was sent to work in RET’s projects in Chad to be exposed to the challenges faced by refugees in camp situations. Throughout the on-going training, RET Japan’s staff acquires experience in finance, logistics, education, monitoring and evaluations and more, by closely working with RET’s National Coordinator in Chad. This training on the ground will strengthen the capacity of RET Japan and as a result, RET International will have a new strong partner to work alongside with in the pursuit of its mission to protect vulnerable young people and young women through education.
As such, RET Japan is poised to play a key role in providing humanitarian aid from Japan, with the help of strong methods developed by RET International. We, RET Japan, aim to expand our network to other countries in Asia in the near future, as the region is prone to natural disasters causing massive displacement and vulnerability among young people.