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The number of children receiving financial aid from the Ashinaga Foundation has hit a record high of 8,325 in fiscal 2021 amid the coronavirus crisis, according to the organization.

The foundation provides educational funding for children who have lost a parent or both parents due to illness, disaster or suicide. Many of the families of such children are in financial difficulties due to the pandemic.

According to a recent survey by the organization, which covered 3,994 parents or other guardians of high school students with aid from the group and received responses from 2,647 of them, the proportion of those having jobs stood at 74%, down from 81% in the previous 2018 survey, and their average disposable income in September stood at about ¥147,000. Nearly 60% of those with jobs are nonregular workers.

About 20% of all respondents have changed or quit their jobs due to the COVID-19 fallout, with nearly half of them seeing their work contracts not renewed, according to the survey, conducted between Oct. 20 and Nov. 3.

"I was forced to quit my job because of the pandemic," one of the respondents said, adding: "My child, who wants to go to university, borrowed money from the Ashinaga program. We have little money now."

A woman in her 40s in Kanagawa Prefecture said she raised her two children by working as a milk deliverer after her husband passed away about 11 years ago.

Her son graduated from high school while working. Her daughter, who is in her second year of high school, is covered by the aid program and works part time to support the family.

The situation worsened for the family in late August, when the mother was found infected with the coronavirus amid the fifth wave of infections that was sweeping the country at the time. With her condition deteriorating sharply, she was hospitalized for a little more than a month from Sept. 1.

In the meantime, the vision in her right eye weakened rapidly. Having had to prioritize her COVID-19 treatment, however, she was unable to undergo an eye examination, and this led to vision loss.

Being unable to drive, she was forced to quit her job. To make matters worse, she is suffering from hair loss and other lingering symptoms.

"My son's income is not much, and I'm worried about my daughter's burden," she said, adding, "I'm also concerned if there is any work that I can do without the sight in my right eye."

Aiming to support families with children in dire poverty, the Ashinaga Foundation sought donations in street events in 12 major cities in the country, including Sapporo, Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka, on Dec. 11 to 12, the first such campaign staged by the group in two years.

"I hope to see a society where everyone can make his or her own choice," said Ryu Horikawa, 23, a fourth-year student at Tohoku Gakuin University in Miyagi Prefecture, who took part in the donation event in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward.

A fourth-year university student who lost his father in his early childhood said: "Misfortune can happen to anyone. We should not think of the issue of children without parents as someone else's problem."

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