Aki, who works in a major Japanese pharmaceutical company, participated in Cross Fields’ Corporate Volunteering Program (CVP) in 2018. She tells us, “Working in the medical field in Indonesia and facing patients everyday made me realize the purpose of my work.” Since returning to Japan, she has been in charge of launching new projects in her company. We interviewed her about her experience in Indonesia and what she has been doing since then.
Six months in Indonesia: Taking on new challenges everyday
—How did you decide to participate in CVP?
I participated in CVP in my fourth year since joining the pharmaceutical company. At the time, I was working as a medical representative in charge of providing information on pharmaceuticals to healthcare professionals in Japan. I had a vague idea that I wanted to work overseas, but I didn’t have a concrete image of what I really wanted to do. So, I thought CVP would be a great opportunity for me and decided to apply.
My host organization was Rachel House, a non-profit organization based in Indonesia. Rachel House provides palliative care for children and their families suffering from cancer, HIV, AIDS, and other diseases, as well as training programs for healthcare professionals in local communities.
To tell the truth, I wasn’t that good at English at the time. So, when the Rachel House team interviewed me, I was told, “Although this program is announced as a six-month program, we will officially decide on the duration depending on how much you contribute in the first month and a half.” I still remember that before leaving Japan, my mind was filled with the thought, “I MUST do my best to prove myself in the first month and a half!”
—So what kind of activities did you take part in Rachel House?
Initially, I was in charge of fundraising. I wondered, “How can I achieve results when I’m not confident in speaking English?” Then, I thought of a way that I can contribute, in a way that I can express my ideas without words. So, I proposed a renewal of the design of the organization’s merchandise, flyers used at events, and other items.
Although it was my first time to be involved in designing, I learned through practice. In order for more people to become aware of Rachel House, I proposed to use pictures drawn by children whom Rachel House supported, and also use color that created a positive impression.
Before creating the design, I helped out at a charity bazaar hosted by Rachel House and asked the nurses on the design they liked and to vote for their favorite one. Since many of them did not speak English, I used gestures and a translation app to share my feelings and thoughts. Fortunately, they were able to understand me, and this helped a lot to narrow our distance.
For the first month and a half, I was constantly thinking, “I NEED to achieve something and contribute.” There was no one close to me that I could personally talk to, so this period was the most challenging for me. However, in the end, many of the flyers, postcards, mugs, and other items I designed were adopted in the organization’s product lineup. Then, the decision was made to extend my stay in Indonesia to 6 months, so this is how I was able to achieve my first goal.
In the first 1.5 months, I was able to get to know the local staff better. Then, I had more opportunities to ask for their opinions at meetings, and I myself began to make use of my Japanese perspective to make suggestions and ask questions. I was able to try various things, such as acquiring sponsorships from Japanese companies and organizing conferences. Seeing the products I designed being sold at Rachel House made me feel that I was contributing to the organization in some way.
Returning to Japan: Continuing to strive in a different environment
—What did you experience after returning to Japan?
Since returning to Japan, I’ve been involved in pharmaceutical marketing for a year and a half, in business model transformation for a year and a half, and am currently on a project team for early detection and diagnosis of diseases. Looking back, I feel that my experience in Rachel House has influenced me greatly throughout my career.
One example is when I worked with my boss from Switzerland. Since I learned in Indonesia that “language is only a tool, what’s important is your passion and enthusiasm,” I was not afraid to communicate in English. Another example is when I had to work on projects without clear answers. The experience of “creating something from scratch in a completely different environment” in the program gave me a lot of confidence, and encouraged me to push myself forward without hesitation.
Another idea I value is to become the one to “blow a new wind.” In Rachel House, the members welcomed my perspectives and opinions as a Japanese. Therefore in my current work, I also value expressing my opinions from the perspective of “a newcomer.” I know that it’s important to get used to a new environment quickly, but I think it is also necessary for an organization to have a new wind blowing through.
Finding My Purpose in Indonesia
—What do you want to do in the future?
I want to continue to take part in improving access to healthcare. I feel that it is really important to be able to support patients until they actually take their medicine, not just when it arrives. I want to be able to provide the necessary information and tools for this to happen.
My experience in Rachel House undoubtedly had a huge influence on me. One of the services offered by Rachel House was palliative care by visiting nurses, and I had the opportunity to visit a child’s home with a nurse. In one family, a grandmother was taking care of the child, and to her surprise, she had not given the child any medication, even though she had it at home.
When I asked her about the situation, she told me that she didn’t know how much medication she should give the child because she couldn’t read and did not want to give the child the wrong dose.
It was at this time that I realized that we need to not only deliver the medicine, but continue to support the patient until the medicine is taken. In fact, after that, the nurses in Rachel House started to communicate the amount of doses to the patients using numbers and pictures.
What one pharmaceutical company can do may be limited. But I believe that by utilizing technology and collaborating with various stakeholders, it is possible to improve access to healthcare. The experience of directly facing patients and working in the medical field in Indonesia made me realize the purpose of my work. This experience has been a great treasure for me.
Message from Host Organization
Reading Aki’s reflections on her experience working at Rachel House, the challenges and the victories, the lessons she took home with her and applied, both in her life and at work –reaffirm the importance of Cross Fields’ CVP program. The immersion Aki had with Rachel House’s patients exposed her to the challenges of patients and their families at home. How Aki chose to respond to this, with courage and a beautiful open heart, and dedication to the improvement of access to healthcare for all – is a testament to the amazing person she is.
Rachel House has been truly blessed with several volunteers like Aki from Cross Fields. Aki’s presence with us taught us many important lessons – perhaps the most important one is the reminder to open our hearts and minds to see our work and its potentialities from a person totally new to our work. For magic happens when we stay in the space of wonder and curiosity, and the belief that in the service of children and families who need our help, everyone can play a part. (Lynna/Rachel House)