Junko Suzuki's family and friends were worried about her safety when they learnt in 2005 that she was going to be a volunteer in China.
The decision, in the first place, was not hers. The kindergarten teacher had just got married in Tokyo, and wanted to go to an African country when she registered with the Japan International Cooperation Agency to China (JICA) to be a volunteer.
Two years later, Suzuki feels more than happy; she feels a sense of fulfilment teaching children between three and five in a Chongqing kindergarten. The joy of demonstrating them how to fold a sheet of paper into an animal, a bird or a flower is overwhelming for her.
And her happiness has rubbed off on her family members and friends back home.
"People in Chongqing are very friendly, and my colleagues in the kindergarten do their best to make me feel at home," Suzuki told China Daily. "I feel I'm needed by the kindergarten and the kids."
Suzuki was one of the 103 young volunteers sent by JICA to China in 2005. She is supposed to return home in November. "I can't think of bidding goodbye to the children. They all love me so much and I love them, too."
The other Japanese volunteers, like Suzuki, have also enjoyed their two-year stay in China. They said it was one of the most colorful times of their lives.
A government-sponsored organization, JICA sent 632 volunteers to China before September 2006. These dedicated young people get only a small sum for their expenses but still give their best in the 28 Chinese provinces and municipalities they work in. Many of them have even stayed in poverty-stricken areas, JICA sources said.
They followed the first four Japanese volunteers who reached China in 1986. Dozens of JICA volunteers have chosen to return to China in the past two decades, drawn by the friends they had made among the local people.
Manabu Hatta, a cricket "coach" and a University of Tohoku graduate, is one of them. During his first visit, he became the first cricket coach in the history of No 4 Middle School in Baoding in North China's Hebei Province. Also, he was probably the only cricket teacher in the city.
After his short stay ended last June, Hatta went back to Japan but returned a month later to Baoding. "I have a whole team to take care of in Baoding and they cannot do without me," he said with pride in the eyes.
Kyoko Takahashi, a volunteer who works as a nurse in the hospital attached to the Wenzhou Medical School, is also considering coming back after her service ends next June.
"I have taught my colleagues what I learned in school and whatever I know about nursing. They in turn have shared their experience with me," she said. "I communicate with my colleagues and patients very well."
(China Daily April 12, 2007)