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Japan youth repair dozens of secondhand wheelchairs for Sri Lankan terror victims

Omori Gakuen High School students repair secondhand wheelchairs in Tokyo's Ota Ward, on June 8, 2019. (Mainichi/Taketo Hayakawa)

TOKYO -- Forty-six secondhand wheelchairs that were repaired by high school students here have been delivered by sea to injured victims of the coordinated bombings in April that killed at least 250 people in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo.

Omori Gakuen High School in Tokyo's Ota Ward has been participating in a volunteer program called Sora Tobu Kurumaisu o Oen Suru Kai (Group that supports wheelchairs that fly in the sky), which repairs wheelchairs no longer being used at welfare facilities and hospitals and then gifts them to various countries in Asia. Since the school's student council began participating in the program in 2000, students have repaired and sent out 994 wheelchairs.

The students said they hoped the wheelchairs are of help to people who have suffered grave injuries.

The high schoolers teamed up with university students from the Kanagawa Institute of Technology (KAIT) to dismantle the wheelchairs, make sure the wheels were rotating at the same pace, and replace the brakes. Daigo Watanabe, a 17-year-old third-year student from Omori Gakuen said, "If the wheelchairs are useful for people who have been injured in the terrorist attacks, I feel a great satisfaction from doing this."

In 2006, Omori Gakuen's vice principal delivered wheelchairs to Sri Lanka with student representatives. "Since we had become so familiar with them, the bombings this year made me very sad," he said. "Being able to come to the aid of people in other countries is a precious experience for the students."

This year, the wheelchairs arrived in Sri Lanka in mid-July. They were delivered to victims of the terrorist attacks through Eshantha Ariyadasa, the 66-year-old head of a foundation that operates a care home for children who cannot live with their parents in Sri Lanka. In a phone interview with the Mainichi Shimbun, Ariyadasa said, "Local Catholic churches contacted me and said, 'Many people are in need of wheelchairs." Everyone has been waiting for the wheelchairs from Japan to arrive, and we are truly thankful."

The coordinated bombings took place April 21 this year, killing at least 250 people, including one Japanese woman. Some 500 people were injured.

(Japanese original by Taketo Hayakawa, Machida Resident Bureau)

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