• Kyodo

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This month, Tomihiro Yamamoto, a kimono fabrics dealer from Wakayama Prefecture, is spending time with a Thai teenage girl he supports.

Oythip Sirijunda, 16, is one of three students that Yamamoto has sponsored since 1997 through a scholarship program through Minsai Center, a Tokyo-based nongovernmental organization.

Oythip, a freshman high school student from the province of Si Saket in Thailand’s poverty-stricken northeast, arrived in Japan on Saturday and is scheduled to leave Tuesday. She caught the tail-end of the cherry blossom season, at which she voiced delight.

She graduated from junior high school in October, and hopes to one day become a nurse.

During her stay, she will visit Kyoto and Universal Studios Japan, the newly opened theme park in Osaka, according to Yamamoto.

The dealer, who is a frequent visitor to Thailand, was moved by the plight of young Thais unable to attend school because they are poor. Yamamoto, 53, said that he and his wife, Kazuko, will continue to lend their support to the center to help Thai children.

They are appealing to the public to help the program, which involves the collection of prepaid 50 yen postcards that are unused or discarded because of miswritten characters.

The cards are sent to post offices and exchanged for stamps worth about 40 yen each, which are then sold to companies for cash.

A group of 250 cards is enough to school a Thai student for one year, he said.

The Darunee Scholarship Program supports Thai children in the country’s northeast — its poorest and least developed region — to attend junior high school. It also sends children from poverty-hit Laos to primary school.

According to the center, poor families in northeastern Thailand earn the equivalent of about $150 a year, and they can’t afford junior high school expenses that would take up about one-fourth of that.

The center said the program provides scholarships to more than 18,000 children annually.

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