NEW YORK - A Japanese charity dedicated to helping school-age children in need is set to embark on a fundraising blitz in the U.S. in June as it rallies support for a bold 100-year vision to help African youth study abroad.
Launched in 2012, the initiative by Ashinaga to provide sub-Saharan African students with an education has started bearing fruit, with the first group of 10 students admitted to universities in Europe and the United States this year.
However, the group said further donations are needed to ensure it continues long term, with the U.S. seen as a potentially lucrative source of funds.
To raise awareness, Ashinaga will perform in New York City and Washington in June, featuring wadaiko drums played by children from areas in Tohoku wrecked by the 2011 disasters, as well as singing and dancing by African children.
Ashinaga has been providing interest-free loans for years to school-age children in need in Japan who have lost parents to disasters, accidents or suicides or whose parents have severe disabilities.
The 100-year vision, though, aims to offer children in Africa the chance to study overseas.
The first group comprises 10 students from 10 countries, including Rwanda and Benin. Eventually, Ashinaga hopes to extend this to one student every year from each of the more than 40 sub-Saharan countries.
Yoshiomi Tamai, founder and president of the organization, said while the plan was ambitious, it must happen. The extended time frame demonstrates the group’s commitment to the project, he said.
“If the world comes out (to) help, the 100-year vision will roll on,” he said.
The launch in 2012 also marked the centennial of the novel “Daddy-Long-Legs,” by American author Jean Webster, that inspired Ashinaga, which means “long legs” in Japanese. The story is about a girl raised in an orphanage who writes a series of letters to the unknown benefactor who put her through college.
Ashinaga’s U.S. performances will also feature a choir from Vassar College, Webster’s alma mater in Poughkeepsie, New York.
The group’s advisory council will also meet in Washington in June. The council comprises eminent persons and experts from Japan and other countries, including Louis Schweitzer, former chairman and CEO of French automaker Renault, and Shigeaki Hinohara, honorary president of St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo.
Ashinaga extended its aid reach beyond Japan following major earthquakes in 1999 in Turkey and Taiwan. It had carried out initiatives to help children who lost parents in the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake that devastated Hyogo Prefecture, and primarily Kobe.
The group also supports children who have lost parents to AIDS in Uganda.