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West Japan shelter for abused children seeks crowdfunding to rebuild aging facilities

A decaying wooden balcony restricted from entry is seen at the Moriyama Gakuen children's shelter in Moriyama, Shiga Prefecture, on Nov. 6, 2020. (Mainichi/Kenichi Isono)

MORIYAMA, Shiga -- Moriyama Gakuen, a foster care shelter in this western Japan city for children who cannot live with their parents due to abuse and other reasons, has launched a crowdfunding project to cover a shortage of 100 million yen (roughly $962,890) to pay for reconstruction of its facilities that have deteriorated over the years.

    It is very rare for such a shelter to use money raised in a crowdfunding campaign to cover its construction costs, but workers and others close to the institution said, "Due to a rise in child abuse cases, the number of children who need protection is growing. We would like people to help us build a home for the children to live in peace."

    Moriyama Gakuen was established in 1959 by the social welfare company Hikari-kai. It relocated to another area within the city in 1990, and built four two-story wooden homes there. Now, all the houses including two other buildings on a separate site are occupied to their maximum capacity, with 30 people living together, aged from 3 to 19.

    Aging facilities at Moriyama Gakuen children's shelter are seen in Moriyama, Shiga Prefecture, on Nov. 6, 2020. (Mainichi/Kenichi Isono)

    More than 30 years have passed since the facilities were initially built, and the wallpaper is peeling and doors don't open smoothly due to deterioration. Some balconies are off limits as the footings are unstable.

    Hikari-kai has been planning to rebuild its facilities since 2019. The plan included providing children with a more homelike environment by reducing each room's capacity from six to four, and building a facility to take children into temporary custody. It estimated the total project would cost around 600 million yen and took steps to finalize the design this summer.

    However, it came to light that Hikari-kai would only receive subsidies of approximately 160 million yen from the prefectural and city governments, contrary to its expectations. Though Hikari-kai cut the cost to around 500 million yen by changing the plan for two-story houses to one-story buildings and making other modifications, it was still 100 million yen short, even with the shelter's own contribution of 240 million yen, which included loans.

    The 63-year-old head of Moriyama Gakuen explained, "We cannot delay the construction period because of the deadline for receiving the subsidies, and we've borrowed the maximum amount available to us. If we cut costs even further and build insufficient facilities, it will have an impact on the lives of the children. That's why we considered launching a crowdfunding campaign to cover the cost."

    The facility was initially full of children who were in financial distress, but currently acts as a refuge for abused children. "Children who are separated from their parents need to enter a foster care shelter to go to a different school. Sadly, that kind of demand is increasing now. Please help us, even just a little, to build an environment where as many children as possible can grow up with a feeling of ease," said the head of Moriyama Gakuen.

    The head of Moriyama Gakuen children's shelter, center, and other workers are seen calling for people to contribute to its recent crowdfunding campaign in Moriyama, Shiga Prefecture, on Nov. 6, 2020. (Mainichi/Kenichi Isono)

    The crowdfunding campaign will continue until Feb. 3, 2021, through the website Campfire at: https://camp-fire.jp/projects/view/334085 (in Japanese). Donations are also acceptable through bank transfers. For more inquiries, call Moriyama Gakuen at 077-582-2887 (in Japanese).

    (Japanese original by Kenichi Isono, Kusatsu Resident Bureau)

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