OSAKA – Volunteers in Osaka’s Minami district are holding evening classes every Tuesday for the children of migrant workers from such countries as the Philippines and Thailand.
The Minami Children’s Classroom has 26 registered students who are tutored for free in Japanese and get help completing their homework on a one-to-one basis.
The classes were established in September 2013 by a group of people supporting foreign workers and Osaka Municipal Minami Elementary School, which most of the children attend.
The number of children born to parents of foreign nationalities or who have their roots overseas has continued to increase at the school, currently accounting for 42 percent of the student body. Their parents usually hold night jobs, including working in restaurants and bars in the entertainment district. A considerable number of them are struggling financially.
“The children remind me of my childhood,” said third-generation Korean Kim Kwang-min, 43, leader of the group and secretary-general of a nonprofit organization for Korean residents in Japan, whose own parents made cheap sandals and were so poor that he couldn’t buy enough school supplies.
Jobs for Korean residents were limited and Kim had no idea what his future held even though he studied hard, blaming his parents for the family’s poverty.
A schoolteacher helped Kim out of a self-destructive life, searching for the reasons for when he caused trouble and praising him when he did something good. In short, the teacher understood him.
“I decided to stand by children whatever they do and create a place they can feel they belong to,” Kim said of starting the free class.
“I want to enable children to raise their hands when asked by a teacher at school if they have done their homework.”
Kazuto Yamazaki, 59, principal of the elementary school, said, “I hope (foreign) children do not regard their own origins negatively (and instead) value them.”
The school holds classes for foreign students to study their home countries and deliver reports in their native language.
Yamazaki hopes that foreign pupils will someday become “bridges” between their countries and Japan.
The school and some Minami citizens began creating an environment to support foreign workers after a Filipino mother tried to commit suicide in 2012 after killing her son, a first-grader, out of desperate loneliness caused by linguistic and cultural barriers. The free evening class is one of the results of cooperation between the school and local residents.
A 10-year-old Filipino boy, a fourth-grader who has been attending the class since the start, said, “I can meet friends here and have come to enjoy studying.”
The boy came to Japan when he was 6. Though his parents often work at night, “I’m OK now,” he said.
More than 40 volunteers serve as teachers at the 6 p.m.-8 p.m. class and get the children back home after class. The volunteers also sometimes help organize events such as picnics, cooking lessons and picture-book readings.
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