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ISCA's youth programme IYLE reaches across borders The experience of a Latin American in Japan

Rafael Manfrinatto shares his story....

Everyone was looking at me…Their eyes were full of curiosity, maybe a bit of distrust too. One by one, step by step, they came closer, in a quiet and shy way. All of a sudden one of them started to move his index finger, very slowly, in my direction. It was getting closer, closer, and suddenly… ”Ouch”…He stuck his finger right into my eye! Then, more of them came over and began to play with my hair, as if they were playing with coils!


And so it was the very first meeting between me, a Brazilian with big round eyes and curly hair, and a hundred lovely Japanese kids…


This story took place in Japan, at the Kinder Garden of Kamimura Gakuen, a private educational institution, when I arrived to run a project in General Gymnastics for around 100 children, from 3 to 6 years old, during 60 days, between September and November of 2006.

            The pathway to that, however, began some time before… At University, when I started to study Physical Education, in 2003. There, I was introduced to the world of General Gymnastics and my first “up side down” experiences! In 2004 I had the opportunity to join the University’s General Gymnastics performance team and, in 2005, I was sent to Denmark to take part of the International Youth Leader Education (IYLE), for 10 months at the Gymnastikhøjskolen i Ollerup. And that, I have to say, was a wonderful life experience!

Ollerup has a partnership with Kamimura Gakuen and has a tradition to send over, every year, two of its former students to teach gymnastics at the Kinder Garden. When I was getting ready to return to Brazil, the school invited me to take this challenge: take the other way around and go to the opposite side of the world! Before me, only Danish girls had been invited, since it is not usual to have male instructors at Kinder Garden in Japan. It was with great excitement that I accepted the challenge and, in September I was already landing in Japan!

General Gymnastics, as conceived in the project, had never been developed in Kamimura Gakuen before. My proposal had always been guided to a broad corporal experience and the social interaction of the children, always enhancing the importance of the playfulness and creativity.

The classes were always very pleasant. We created our own non-verbal language! And in that way we could enjoy the project. More than that we could enjoy all the time! During the whole school day, I was there singing with the kids, having lunch together, playing the piano for them, making the smaller ones take a little nap after meal, going around jumping, rolling, crawling, playing with them, all that and more.

The contact with General Gymnastics was a positive and meaningful experience to the children. They had a lot of fun by practicing it and that was one of the most important results within the project.

The accomplishment of the program, on its context, was a great challenge. A very bold project that succeeded! But, much more than the simple development of a project, the experience consisted of a whole period of total immersion in the local culture, the daily life with the kids, the school environment, teachers, students, parents and community. I was a Gymnastics teacher for just a few hours per week, but, all the time and everywhere, I was “the guy with big round eyes and curly hair”, though the finger episode happened just once!

But maybe, more than everything, life is the Art of meeting. And every meeting is a moment to co-create life knowledge, a chance to make things better, a way to happiness…If we dare! A better world is something that we can get only if we build it together, if we meet! We’re all humans and all of us have so much to teach and so much to learn… I had many 3 years old teachers trying to make me use the chopsticks properly, for example! And that is what I bring with me: the cultural exchange and all the experiences of sharing experiences.

With no doubts, it was a great learning in the constant process of human formation, in my academic, professional and personal life. A unique experience to remember for a lifetime!



Rafael Manfrinatto de Carvalho

Physical Education student at the State University of Campinas, Campinas, SP, Brazil