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Osaka NPO using essays from children abroad to deepen int'l understanding at schools

A group of fifth grade students at Osaka Municipal Juso Elementary School, listen to a reading of an essay by a girl living in India on April 16, 2019. (Mainichi/Yumi Shibamura)

OSAKA -- "Friends of the Earth," a special class taught by a local nonprofit organization (NPO) here, is introducing elementary school students to essays by children abroad through a project that aims to deepen understanding of other cultures and lifestyles.

From April this year, Mirakuru, an NPO based in the city's Tsurumi Ward, has prepared the essays and dispatched a lecturer to elementary schools to guide through the content. The classes come as Osaka prepares for the 2025 World Expo and records its highest ever foreign visitor numbers in recent years.

"Where I live, there are many children who can't live with their parents. I feel very sad for them," reads an essay from a sixth-grade student living in the state of Odisha, India. By studying the lives of children of their age in different cultures and countries, students can develop their own viewpoints.

On April 16 at Osaka Municipal Juso Elementary School in the city's Yodogawa Ward, the "Friends of the Earth" lesson is being used as part of the school's social studies or integrated study subject lessons. Yoshie Arai, a director at Mirakuru, is introducing students to India, starting with its geography and flag, before then highlighting its strengths in the agriculture and information technology (IT) industries. Then she reads the essay aloud.

In the article, the writer describes her gratitude to her parents for sending her to an English language school, and for ensuring she is provided for despite living in a poor household. On her dreams for the future, she writes "When I grow up, I want to start a school where poor children can study for free."

Some of the children in the class were surprised by the content. "I thought everyone just lived with their parents," said one. When asked what we can do to make friends with her, there were many ideas. "Write her a letter," said one child. "Give her money and food," said another. Opinions and proposals were exchanged until Arai reminded them, "The first step is to consider the other person's situation."

Mirakuru's aim is to create opportunities for formative experiences from the new classes. By thinking about the issues facing foreign children, it's hoped students will start to grasp the problems of the world as their own too.

The writing itself comes from Mirakuru's partnership with child education NPOs internationally. Children aged 10 to 12 from eight countries, including India and Bangladesh in Southeast Asia, as well as Africa, provide the material that forms the basis of the lessons.

After experiencing her first missive from abroad, Kokoro Ogata, 10, said "Wanting to make your dreams come true for other people is amazing." Kotaro Goto, 11, praised the essays, saying, "It's easy to understand someone else's ideas when I read them." Yuko Uemura, their homeroom teacher, was also positive. "It has crossover appeal with their social studies classes too. It's a good opportunity for them to find out about the world."

Lessons under the program are free, with elementary schools in Tokyo, Hokkaido and Fukuoka introducing them to their schedules. To find out more, contact Mirakuru's chair, Daisaku Yoshimura, on 090-9986 9238 (in Japanese).

(Japanese original by Yumi Shibamura, Osaka City News Department)

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