Five years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake which claimed 16,000 lives and displaced 230,000 others. Of those affected was an 11-year-old boy, left orphaned and homeless in the aftermath. He soon found himself at Matsuba-en, a children’s home, where he was cared for since.
Natural disasters are one of many reasons why there are almost 40,000 children living in children’s homes and orphanages across Japan.
While these state-run homes provide a warm and caring environment, growing up without a family often results in these children facing low self-esteem and performing poorly in school—which may potentially impact their chances for further education or future employment.
Japanese nonprofit Living Dreams was established with these children in mind: to enrich and enable them through technology, and guide them towards realizing their dreams.
In 2014, it decided to pilot Digital Natives. This initiative aims to empower the children with a level of fluency in IT and the benefit of having Internet access, and ultimately help them overcome their challenges and thrive in tomorrow’s digital world.
“However, having general access to the Internet is not a utility many institutions are privileged to, in part due to concerns over online safety for young surfers,” said Michael Clemons, Director of Living Dreams. “This is where a private cloud comes in. It offers a cost-effective workaround, providing children with a safe doorway that opens to a wealth of knowledge available on the Internet.”
Together with the support of Microsoft Valued Professionals, the nonprofit set out to build an Azure cloud, deploy Wi-Fi connections, and activate 400 software licenses for the 10 participating institutional homes across Tohoku and Tokyo. It also replaced the outdated computers in the homes with newer models that run the latest applications.
With the right infrastructure in place, Living Dreams successfully piloted Digital Natives, unlocking a whole new world of learning opportunities for the children.
During the program, both staff and children received regular IT training sessions which strengthened their digital literacy and taught them how to use essential productivity tools such as Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint, and Word. Trainer Noriaki Haba recalled being particularly impressed by a child’s creativity with PowerPoint presentation, which featured a flying origami crane as a transition to the next slide.
Digital Natives also ignited the children’s curiosity as it introduced them to new concepts such as coding and robotics, helping to hone their critical-thinking skills and more importantly, show how technology can enable them to create great things.
“If it wasn’t for the cloud, Digital Natives may have never even started,” says Patrick Newell – founder of Living Dreams. “The secure Azure environment provided children with the perfect platform to navigate the Internet and technology safely and confidently. All the information, tools, and resources they need to succeed are now at their fingertips.”
The secure environment as well as low maintenance effort required by cloud technologies as Azure and Office 365 has empowered Living Dreams not only to support both children and staff of the homes with an enterprise quality collaborative environment but also lead to trials of new cloud-based technologies as Minecraft – says Keiji Kamebuchi a Microsoft Valued Professional, member of Microsoft Regional Director Programs.
For the young survivor at Matusba-en, the program has dramatically transformed his life. Now 16, he is a champion of Digital Natives—giving presentations and winning IT awards—and assists his IT teacher in school whenever he can.
The success of Digital Natives only serves to fuel Living Dream’s work. The nonprofit continues to collaborate with partners to introduce more technology tools and programs, and hopefully extend Digital Natives to reach all 40,000 children’s home residents in Japan.
Get updates on Living Dreams and the work it does to enrich the lives of children in institutions here.