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Five children from the Nonohana-no-ie Children’s Home got a taste of the newsroom at The Japan Times and spent some time behind the microphone at radio Inter-FM recently, part of a program to prepare the youngsters for a working life outside the home.

Founded in 1984 by Misao Hanazaki, Nonohana-no-ie — which literally means Wildflower House — is presently home to 40 children between the ages of 2 and 18 who have been victims of abuse or neglect by their parents. Several were simply abandoned.

“I’m not really interested in working for a newspaper, but it’s interesting to see what happens here,” said Tamaki Fukui, 15, on the Aug. 30 visit. Interest picked up for Fukui and her friend, Keiko Mineshima, however, when the photo database was used to print out images of England soccer star David Beckham.

Inter-FM DJ Charles Glover showed the five youngsters how The Japan Times-affiliated radio station puts programs together, helping each to record a short tape.

Earlier in the day, the children visited the Tokyo offices of Bloomberg and DentsuFUSE, a unit of the major ad agency.

Nonohana-no-ie opens its doors to non-Japanese children, many of whom were born to foreign mothers and Japanese fathers before being handed over to the home and are therefore considered to be stateless.

At present, the home in Kisarazu, Chiba Prefecture, has children with parents from the Philippines, Colombia, Thailand and Kenya.

“Our prime purpose is to provide a homelike environment for children who have never had a real home,” said Masaki Togami, deputy director of the home. “We want to give them a feeling of being loved, cared for and the sense that they are not alone. We strive to give them mental stability.

“It’s ironic, but at a time when the number of children being born in Japan is falling, we’re seeing a definite increase in the number of parents who are incapable of parenting,” he said, adding that there is a waiting list for children to get into Nonohana.

Incidents of reported child abuse have soared in recent years, with 24,972 cases reported to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry in 2001. When statistics were first collected, in 1990, 1,101 cases were reported to authorities.

Currently, there are only 550 orphanages or children’s homes in Japan.

Nonohana founder Hanazaki first became interested in helping children in 1969 after spending 18 months working as a volunteer with child refugees in Switzerland.

On her return to Japan in 1971, she adopted a 17-year-old girl from Indochina, followed by several girls from other parts of Southeast Asia. Nonohana-no-ie opened in 1985.

It hasn’t always been a smooth ride for Hanazaki or the other volunteers, however. “Graduates” frequently return to the place they consider home after initially leaving to start a job and a life on the outside, Togami said.

“They have difficulties leaving and they often have a hard time finding jobs,” he said. “They can’t keep up human relationships and they return to Nonohana. Some even stay until they are 20.”

The company visit program, which takes place on one day once a year, is designed to give the youngsters an idea of the working opportunities that are out there, Togami said, and encourage them to study harder if they see a job that appeals to them.

Hanazaki also set up Friendship Asia House Cosmos in 1991, a temporary home for unwed non-Japanese mothers and their children.

Hanazaki’s work has been recognized with awards from UNESCO and the Japanese government for promoting foreign diplomacy by helping refugee children, while in 1999 the home received financial support from the Imperial Household Agency.

Nonohana-no-ie is looking for volunteers to help put together its Cultural Day festival in October, particularly people from Sweden, Brazil and the United States. Contact the home through its Internet Web page, www.hanazaki.com or e-mail banana_bread@yahoo.com

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