Miyu Niwa

boston university, usa

  Miyu delivering clothes to children at the Kamping Puoy TASSEL School, 2016.

Miyu delivering clothes to children at the Kamping Puoy TASSEL School, 2016.

Lottery system – that was how my journey with TASSEL began. It is definitely a stranger start compared to most students. In the spring of sophomore year of high school, some classmates and I became interested in the “Summer Service Trip” to Cambodia. There was space for only 6 of us, and I was 5th to be chosen. Thus with a lucky pick and limited knowledge about TASSEL or the country, I flew to Cambodia. I thought that we were traveling only to teach English, and as I spent my week there clearly I realized how ignorant I was. From working with the local teachers to learning about the history and culture, from interacting with the students to listening to Joji’s stories, I realized that ultimately TASSEL is a network of continuous love in action. TASSEL hopes to change the future of Cambodia and the people there through abundant love within the community. Whether it be by teaching English, providing shelter, funding monthly rice and fish deliveries, or continuously returning to the country, TASSEL is overflowing with care and love.

  TASSEL volunteer Miyu Niwa

TASSEL volunteer Miyu Niwa

Seeing how active the TASSEL community was the first trip, I came home fired up with ideas of what my chapter could do. I saw first-hand, through meeting families, teachers, and students, the potential for growth and what I could do. Going to Cambodia is only 12 days out of 365 days of the year, and I knew taking action did not stop when landing back home. I still remember Joji’s words on the last day of the trip: “It’s easy to forget all of this when you’re back home in Tokyo…away from Cambodia and TASSEL… So my challenge to you is to not forget and keep that burning fire going”. I kept the passion and tried to spread it to others through fundraising and raising awareness throughout the year.  

    For most of junior year, I was definitely focused on chapter fundraising, organizing events with our school advisor and chapter presidents. I was, in some ways, reliant and waiting for the presidents to take initiative. But I wanted to do more. Always thinking with a ‘chapter mentality’, which is necessary of course, I hadn’t realized that I could (and should) do even more as an individual. While planning an independent trip back to Cambodia (it was not a school trip the second year), I came up with the idea to fundraise using my love for sports and teaching. In the past years, I had been helping out on middle school volleyball and basketball teams and worked as a Sports Camp leader. I organized and led a one-week volleyball camp in the summer for younger students. I donated all the money to TASSEL in hopes that the children, teachers, and villagers of Cambodia could receive education, food, and medicine – later realizing this act itself was a way of expressing love and care.

  Miyu and other TASSEL volunteers with children and local teachers of the Banan TASSEL School, 2016. 

Miyu and other TASSEL volunteers with children and local teachers of the Banan TASSEL School, 2016. 

Following the camp’s success, I extended it to two weeks in the second year and added basketball. Not only did these camps raise significant amounts of money, but they also allowed younger students to learn about and get interested in TASSEL.

When I became President in the summer before senior year, I started brainstorming ways to better structure and develop the Seisen chapter. By then the previous president had done a great job recruiting  60 members. However, I knew that to make the chapter stronger some adjustments had to be made. From a stricter recruiting process involving interviewing and application screening ,to teacher training to organizing a sub-leader/sub-group system, TASSEL at Seisen became a more structured organization that would be able to continue in the years to follow. We even created a website just for the Seisen chapter so that we would have at least some form of central platform.  

My last year in high school as a TASSEL member was dedicated to ensuring the following years were just as strong.  I had come back from the first trip fired up. I wanted the younger members to experience this same feeling. Thus I planned a second independent trip, this time bringing more dedicated students from my chapter.

  Miyu introducing herself before the students of the Samrang TASSEL School, 2016. 

Miyu introducing herself before the students of the Samrang TASSEL School, 2016. 

Through the three visits to Cambodia, I  met many families, students, and teachers. I listened to so many stories of families with similar themes and underlying problems. My understanding of TASSEL and the needs of the country deepened each time, to the point I could no longer address the issues simply. I have come to understand how complicated things are, and how there is just so much more to be done. As a university student, I am now a Writing Instructor, still very involved with TASSEL; however, pursuing the field of healthcare and health equity is now my way of addressing the issues at large. Poor health and poverty are very intertwined, one affecting the other. After my third trip, I saw how prominent of a factor poor health is in exacerbating poverty in Cambodia, which sparked my interest in global health.  

Through TASSEL, I have realized what my passions are, and my potential role in this world. ‘Teaching English’ is only one way to help, but now that I can see this bigger picture and the different layers of what must be done, I cannot forget nor can I leave it alone.