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A residents association in Oita Prefecture has been providing free rice to about 170 non-Japanese technical interns and other foreign workers in the area since June who are struggling with declining income amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Aimed at helping the foreign workers, the move now is expanding to a grassroots international exchange involving more local residents and children.

According to the residents association in Nakatsu, overseas workers have increased in number in the past decade or so, working in an industrial complex in the area that houses firms doing business with automakers. But when orders began to decline in April, their working days were reduced considerably, too.

But since most of them send a majority of their income back to their families in their home countries, it is getting harder for them to live on with what they now earn, according to the companies that hire them.

Since many of the workers are from Indonesia and Vietnam, where the staple food is rice, the association came up with a plan to offer them rice. Since June 21, it has been handing out tickets via the companies that can be exchanged for 1.5 kilograms of rice every Sunday.

The group intends to continue until September, which will require more than 3 tons of rice. The association has solicited donations for the project but is still shouldering about ¥800,000 of the cost.

“It would be a shame if they had to go back to their home countries with only the negative memories of the coronavirus,’’ said Mitsuhiro Tomomatsu, 69, who heads the association. “I want them to have good memories, too.”

On Aug. 8, the association held a party for about 40 people, including foreign workers, local children and their parents, serving Indonesian cuisine.

“It’s spicy and yummy. The people from Indonesia are kind, too,” said Shota Nakazono, 8, who was gobbling down nasi goreng, Indonesian fried rice.

A 25-year-old Indonesian woman, who cooked the food, was happy that people had enjoyed her homemade meal.

“I’m delighted to have served the food from my home country,” she said. “I want to participate again if I get a chance. The rice has been helpful, too.”

Tomomatsu is hoping to plan similar events if there is little infection in the area.

“I’m having small talk with foreign residents nowadays, and I feel that exchanges with them are expanding due to the pandemic,” he said.

This section features topics and issues from the Kyushu region covered by the Nishinippon Shimbun, the largest daily newspaper in Kyushu. The original article was published on Aug. 22.

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