Months after a military coup in Myanmar, the country is still in turmoil. And thousands of kilometers away in Fukuoka, Takashi Takino, 78, who supports an orphanage and other organizations in Myanmar’s largest city of Yangon, receives a steady stream of messages from Myanmar people expressing their plight.
“A school nearby has been bombed,” one of the messages reads.
Although he is distressed by the political unrest, which occurred while he was temporarily back in Japan due to the spread of the coronavirus, he continues to send messages of encouragement to the people of Myanmar.
“Live and let’s meet again!” he says.
The orphanage managed by Takino is home to about 200 children ages 2 to 16 who were abandoned by their parents due to poverty and other reasons. The children had been going around the community asking for donations for their meals, but after the coup, they were not allowed to go out freely.
They have been scraping by on a small amount of rice and vegetables, but “the stockpile of rice will run out in two months,” one of the messages says.
Takino built an elementary school in 2010 and a Japanese-language school in 2011 in Myanmar, where he also spent some time teaching. In mid-May, he was informed by a former colleague and a pupil with whom he still keeps in touch that a school staff member was seriously injured by gunfire.
Messages with gory details and photos come flowing to Takino in droves.
“I saw a woman and her child out shopping when a stray bullet hit the mother and killed her.”
“A man mistaken for a bombing suspect was shot dead right in front of my child.”
Takino says, “I want to be a wall to protect everyone,” but regrets there’s no way to get to back to the country now.
After retiring from a teaching career at a high school, Takino ran a cram school and a prep school. In 2007, he visited Myanmar for the first time as chairman of the Fukuoka Lions Club, a nongovernmental organization. Under the military regime, economic development had not progressed, and there were many children who had been abandoned by their parents. Human trafficking targeting children was also rampant.
“It was like Japan right after the war,” Takino said.
He traveled to Myanmar several times a year to deliver the donations the organization had collected. One day, he met a 2-year-old boy who was emaciated from an infectious disease and malnutrition. When he was about to leave, the boy cried and begged him not to go, but Takino let go of his hand and said, “I’ll be back.” That night at his hotel, he heard the news that the boy had died.
“I wish I could have been there for him a little bit more,” he said, feeling full of regret and anger at himself. “Giving money and things is just for self-satisfaction, isn’t it?”
He folded his business in 2011 and moved to Yangon. In addition to the orphanage, he also got involved in vocational training for people age 17 and older with the aim of nurturing talent that can contribute to the development of the country.
But he is frustrated to hear that many of the children and young people who had smiles on their faces before he returned to Japan in spring of last year have not been able to attend school.
In March, he was asked by an acquaintance of his who had been supporting his activities for many years to be the “guardian” of an enshrinement hall called Yoshizuka Wat in the Yoshizuka Little Asia Market shopping district in central Fukuoka.
A statue of Buddha is enshrined in the hall, which attracts Myanmar people living in the area. A man in his 20s, who aspires to start a business in his home country, said, “The current state of affairs is making it difficult to realize my dream.”
“It’s OK,” Takino said. “When the current difficulties are over, (Myanmar) will surely become a wonderful country. That’s when they need the power of young people like you.”
The Fukuoka Lions Club is soliciting donations online through a crowdfunding campaign to send food and daily necessities to orphanages in Yangon, Myanmar.
“In times of turmoil like this, it is the socially vulnerable who suffer the most. Even a small amount of money can have the power to save the lives of children,” said Shintaro Ryu, chairman of the club.
After a coup d’etat in February, a work boycott has spread among the population as an act of resistance against the army. The result has stymied most economic activity.
Food shortages and inflated prices have become commonplace, with the United Nations’ World Food Programme projecting around 3.4 million people could face starvation.
The club, which has been supporting an orphanage run by Takashi Takino, started crowdfunding to lend support to his and other similar efforts. The goal is to send ¥200,000 ($1,800) per facility, which would be enough to buy five tons of rice.
The deadline for the crowdfunding is July 31.
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 June 2.
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