Overcoming Adversity: Stories by TOMODACHI Alumni

The following is the summary of a breakout session that was part of the 2016 Annual Conference.



  • Moderator: Kaoru Utada Furuya, Alumni Manager, TOMODACHI Initiative, U.S.-Japan Council
  • TOMODACHI Alumni: Jasper Cheng, Ellena Jones, Shota Eda, Roberto Torress, Misato Oi, Koki Yamamoto, Sreya Atluri, Azumi Nakai


The session began with speeches by the eight TOMODACHI alumni, who highlighted the ways they overcame adversity and faced challenges within their community and society.

Jasper and Shota talked about how their start-up businesses failed when they were young inexperienced students, but that they did not give up on the spirit of entrepreneurship. They learned that “entrepreneurship isn’t about profit or new technology–it’s about the ability to create solutions for the problems we face in this world.” They encouraged the audience to think about how they could create a positive culture of risk-taking and having a strong personal drive.

Ellena and Sreya discussed the topic of social welfare. Ellena grew up in a foster care system, and experienced neglect and emotional abuse from her biological and adoptive families, which resulted in her being homeless. Sreya established a NPO to help underprivileged children in India. Sreya and Ellena are determined to dedicate themselves to improving the lives of children in the United States and around the world. Ellena believes that providing more resources to children in need will lead to their future success. She asked everyone to work collectively to aid in improving the lives of orphaned, abused, and neglected foster children.

Koki and Roberto lost their homes through severe natural disasters: the Great East Japan Earthquake and a hurricane. Through TOMODACHI, Koki visited California and Roberto visited Tohoku. Based upon their experience, they decided to devote themselves to building infrastructures and communities that are adaptable, sustainable and innovative.

Misato and Azumi experienced family loss and depression. They were heartbroken, but learned the power of storytelling, not only as a means to heal themselves but also to reach out to others. They are now on a journey to become storytellers who facilitate post-traumatic growth.

After the speeches, the alumni sat with the audience and led workshops on the topics they presented.

All of the alumni speakers turned adversity into growth through TOMODACHI. And they are now on a mission to achieve their goals of becoming future leaders in both countries. This session exemplified their strong determination and enthusiasm toward their dreams for the future.