June 2015 - RET
RET, as the Foundation for the Refugee Education Trust, was founded by Mrs Sadako Ogata, when she was UN High Commissioner for Refugees, where she was the first Japanese and the first woman ever to hold this position. As she finished her mandate with UNHCR, she founded RET, the Refugee Education Trust, in order to bridge the gaps in education for vulnerable displaced youth that she had witnessed as High Commissioner. She then went on to head the Japan International Cooperation Agency for almost a decade.
During all this time, as Mrs Ogata was in a significant and highly visible government posting, RET could not work closely with the Government of Japan, in order to avoid any conflict of interest. However, RET remained close to Japan, in spirit, and through special private groups. One such example is a group of young women from the Sacred Heart University of Tokyo, where Mrs Ogata had studied. In 2003, RET and the Sacred Heart University founded the SHRET, a group of SH University students, dedicated to RET’s cause and to raise awareness for refugees and the need to educate refugee youth.
During this last dozen years, as political conflicts, violence and natural disasters have grown around the world, so has RET’s work. It has grown significantly, expanding its focus on the protection of all young people and their communities affected by displacement, violence, political conflict and natural disasters. While registered in approximately two dozen countries in order to operate on the ground, RET is also registered in the USA, in Germany and as of early, 2015, also in Japan.
To simplify things, we have renamed The Foundation for Refugee Education Trust, as “RET International”. With Mrs Ogata’s official retirement from the Government of Japan, we have also created “RET Japan”, a Japanese NPO, operating independently in Japan, but reporting to RET International’s CEO, Zeynep Gündüz. Therefore, this year, our bond with Japan is growing even stronger. This is, however, only one of the many exciting events of these last few months.
This February, ten of the young women from Sacred Heart University came to RET’s headquarters in Geneva for a training on the protection of young people in fragile environments. This enables them to be even more effective in their awareness raising activities as RET Youth Ambassadors.
Soon after, five of these RET Youth Ambassadors participated in the United Nations’ World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan (14-18 March). As RET in Latin America has long been working with young people on the issue of Disaster Risk Reduction, it was a wonderful opportunity to have the concerns of Latin American youth voiced by young Japanese women.
During the Conference, the RET Youth Ambassadors presented to the Secretary-General of the United Nations a Quipu. The Quipu was a tool used by the Incas to record information. Symbolically, this one had travelled from Latin America and contained messages from Latin American youth to Mr Ban Ki-moon. These messages where gathered through CORELAC, a network that supports child and youth centred disaster risk reduction, in which RET is very active.
Shortly after the Sendai Conference, RET International’s CEO, Zeynep Gündüz, visited Mrs Ogata in Tokyo. She was accompanied by RET’s Regional Director for Latin America & the Caribbean and RET Japan’s Representative. Mrs Ogata was delighted by the progress of the organisation she had created almost 15 years ago. Our ever-expanding work in the protection and education of vulnerable young women was particularly meaningful to her. She asked that RET continue to emphasize this area more than ever in the future.
After all these events, the next step is to transform relationships into concrete projects. To make this happen RET invited Mrs Yukiko Ishii, Secretary-General of the Japan Centre for Conflict Prevention to visit RET’s Women’s Centres and Language Schools in Turkey. This led to an agreement for concrete collaboration, first in Turkey and potentially, elsewhere.
Since inception, RET International has nurtured its Japanese roots. Today, as we transform this emotional bond into solid partnerships, we feel privileged to be at the heart of such a culturally diverse and positive human collaboration.