WE ACTION DAY "Diversity & Inclusion Day!”

Nojima Stella Kanagawa Sagamihara interacts with children with disabilities and their parents and participates in a local sporting event

On April 23, Nojima Stella Kanagawa Sagamihara invited children with intellectual and developmental disabilities to their home base, Nojima Football Park (NFP). The children enjoyed playing football together and were served lunch, which was specially proposed by the players. They also visited an event held in their hometown of Sagamihara City and interacted with the local children.

About 40 children and their parents who attend an after-school daycare – a welfare facility for children with disabilities to use after school and on holidays, gathered on NFP's field, where the sun shone brightly.

Following the previous WE ACTION DAY, three entities in Sagamihara City and Kawasaki City invited the children, and 21 players from Nojima Stella Kanagawa Sagamihara participated in the event – including Defender Sae Kitakata and Midfielder Mahiro Nishigori, who took the leadership role in planning and organizing the event, along with Goalkeeper Mio Nemoto and Midfielder Arisa Matsubara.

For this event, the program was prepared not only for the children, but also for their parents as well. The players said, "When parents participate in an event with their children, it inevitably becomes child-centered. We want to let the parents enjoy this program as well, without having to worry about their children.” This idea actually came from a WE MEETING in February, where the players and WE LEAGUE Chair Kikuko Okajima exchanged their thoughts and ideas.

The children played a "ball-carrying game" by forming teams and playing against each other. They competed for the 30 balls placed in the middle of the ground, which they carried to their own team using their hands and feet. Koenig Cindy, a Forward player from Germany who joined the team last September, stayed close to a boy as they went to get the ball.

Sae Kitakata hyped up the program for the parents from the warm-up session and onwards, making it difficult for the parents to hold back their smiles throughout the event as the participants also took the opportunity to aim hard for the goal.

The event concluded with a football match between the children and the players.  Both boys and girls gave their all taking on the dribbling and dummy tricks of the Forward player, Miwa Sasaki.

Following the event, the "NFP Kodomo Shokudo (Children's Cafeteria)" was hosted with the support of the Sagamihara Catering Association, who runs a kitchen car at the home games. Original pita burgers, which were put together by the players were served. There were four different burgers – which included cheese hamburgers and chicken nanban (deep-fried chicken dressed with tartar sauce). The most popular flavor amongst the children was the "Yakisoba Pita Burger," which was proposed by Mio Nemoto.

Miwako Fushimi, Representative of Luce – a sports afterschool day care of Sagamihara City, was teammates with Minami Ishida, Defender of the Shizuoka Prefecture Selection Team, when they were in high school. She was grateful for the invitation from Nojima Stella Kanagawa Sagamihara, saying, "It is very difficult for children to interact with new people, so it is valuable to have a place like this where they can be involved with the players on a regular basis.”

Mahiro Nishigori, who participated in a WE ACTION DAY for the first time said, "I participated from the planning stage and it was a great opportunity to put myself in different people’s shoes.” On the other hand, Mio Nemoto said, "When I was a child, there were no professional women football players. So, I want to continue telling the younger generation that there is a world where they can aim higher.”

In the afternoon, Miyuka Hatanaka, Defender who has experience representing Japan in different age categories, along with two other players visited an elementary school in Sagamihara City. They also joined an event hosted by the local Junior Chamber " Set your heart on fire! Tsukui Sports Onigokko.”

Sports Onigokko is a competitive version of the traditional game of tag. The goal is to get the treasure from the opposing team’s territory without getting tagged and the team with the most treasure wins. About 60 children in the lower grades of elementary school were divided into teams and enthusiastically engaged in the game. The winning team had a special match against the players’ team, which the children took seriously as the scene got excited.

In addition, the students were asked after the game, "What should you do when your teammates make a mistake?” To which Defender Tamari Ito replied, "It’s a common thing. So, if you tell them that they still have a chance, it will motivate them to want to try again.”

Moreover, Forward player Rinko Ushikubo recalled her own experience saying, "When I was younger, I was on a team with a lot of boys, and they sometimes refused to pair with me,” conveying how important it is to respect every one regardless of their gender.