A kindergarten teacher is helping teens with troubled backgrounds complete high school through free lessons in the main hall of a Buddhist temple in Nagoya.

Many teens with difficult family circumstances give up on education and join the workforce after the third year of junior high school, said Daiyu Hironaka, 34, who launched the program in 2007.

The project accepts teens from orphanages as well as from single-parent families with an annual income below ¥2 million (about $16,800). They study with volunteer teachers every Thursday and Sunday afternoon in the main hall of Shokoin Temple, on the eighth floor of a building in Chikusa Ward.

“Students who don’t know how to study are treated as troublemakers at school,” said a 15-year-old third-year junior high school student who has been living in an orphanage since his parents divorced.

“I feel relaxed studying here and teachers help me until I can understand,” he said.

“Children who are abandoned by their parents and are unable to go to school lack basic academic skills,” Hironaka said. “But should they blame themselves for it?”

The problem is growing more serious as the ratio of children from poverty-stricken families rises to new highs.

Hironaka, the eldest son of the chief priest of the temple, which belongs to the Jodo Shu (Pure Land school), visited numerous cram schools seeking support for his vision that “education should be equally available to all.”

He came up empty-handed until Meigakukan Co. agreed to work with him.

Takeshi Sato, 51, who represents Meigakukan and has a disabled family member, said: “As an educator, I’ve always wanted to support the weak in society.”

Sato offered a free supply of teachers and study materials to the program, which has seen more than 100 children participate.

“The spirit of mutual care is a basic teaching of Buddhism,” Hironaka said. “There are more temples than convenience stores, and the future of children will surely change if temples offer their support regardless of religious sect.”

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