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Feature LEANING IN - THE POWER OF WOMENOMICS - A signing ceremony with local community members The Mita’i Foundation One woman aims to aid a nation MARINA TOKORO W HILE Paraguay is one of the world’s leading producers of soybeans and cotton, the nation’s heavy reliance on agriculture and its susceptibility to volatile weather and global commodity prices renders its national economic development precarious from year to year. Dr. Yoko Fujikake, a professor at the Graduate School of Urban Innovation at Yokohama National University, first visited Paraguay as a volunteer with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in 1993. Discovering a bond with the socially restricted women she met there, she felt the need to continue her work after the end of her dispatch period in 1995. 8 | highlighting japan Upon returning to Japan, Fujikake established the Mita’i Mitakuñi (hereafter Mita’i ) Foundation, which aimed to support the inhabitants of Paraguay’s rural areas. Taking its name from the words for ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ in the language of Paraguay’s indigenous Guarani people, the foundation has now constructed new schools and a health center as well as conducted classes for cooking and nutritional education that benefit entire communities. In one of her early classes, Fujikake taught the local women how to bake cake – something they had never done before. The recipe they used needed no eggs, and they made do with what was on hand. Improving women’s situation, Fujikake discovered, wasn’t necessarily a matter of providing resources, but about realizing they could change their lives with what they had. “Each small success leads to confidence,” she says. Now, garnering support from local NGOs and receiving dozens of proposals from Paraguayan municipalities and local people through the the post and e-mail each year, Fujikake and the Mita’i Foundation show no signs of slowing down. The organization is currently building its fifth school in the village of Santo Domingo in Paraguay’s Coaguazu Department and is also planning to add a small library.