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Japanese teen inspired by own experience launches drive to send books to foster home kids

Books which were sent to foster care facilities following the first round of the Jetbook Sakusen crowdfunding initiative, which took place December 2020, are seen in this photo provided by the administrative office of Jetbook Sakusen.

TOKYO -- A crowdfunding project to deliver books to children at foster care facilities has been undertaken by a university student who was moved to action after a girl at one facility asked to borrow a textbook for something to read.

    Organizing the project, dubbed "Jetbook Sakusen (initiative)," is Yuna Yamauchi, 18, a first-year university student. The name stems from her desire to convey compassion to the children with all the power of a jumbo jet no matter how far away they are, and from the hope that donations will create future opportunities for the children to soar high like jets.

    Supporters are able to choose one book and write a message which will be sent to the children of foster care facilities. Yamauchi set a target of gaining the support of 10,000 participants, and a total of 30 million yen (about $275,000), to send 100 books each to 100 foster homes.

    Yamauchi has a special reason for wanting to engage such a large number of people: She herself lived in a foster home in the Kansai region of western Japan for 16 years, from the age of 2. Japan's foster care facilities are places where children who are unable to live with their parents for various reasons are admitted. The facility Yamauchi grew up in was large, and there were times when about 100 people lived together in the same establishment.

    "The rules there were strict, and sometimes we'd all break them together and get scolded together. We also fought, but we slept beside each other and lived together the whole time," Yamauchi said. She also made "lifetime friends" with whom she can discuss anything, and said that she loved her foster home.

    Yuna Yamauchi, who planned Jetbook Sakusen, a crowdfunding project to deliver books to foster homes, is seen in this image provided by the administrative office of Jetbook Sakusen. Yamauchi engages in activities without revealing her face to the media as she is a minor.

    When she attended elementary and middle school in her neighborhood, she felt that life in a foster home was only natural, but matters changed when she entered high school in a separate community. When she told her friends that she lived in a foster home, they would say, "I'm sorry I asked; I wish you the best," creating a heavy atmosphere. She said that she started to feel as if her background was something she should not speak of, and noticed that there was a difference in how she and others viewed foster care facilities. Many of her friends also had the same kind of experience, and Yamauchi found herself thinking, "Why do we have to hide this even though we did nothing wrong?" She came to think, "If we could have many people learn about foster care facilities, children there would be able to live more comfortably."

    A turning point came in 2020, when Yamauchi was in her third year of high school. A fifth-grader at her foster home asked her, "Could you lend me a Japanese textbook, because I want to read a book?" Yamauchi was shocked to learn that even textbooks were valuable reading material. The foster home was not equipped with an internet connection, and while it had books, the supply couldn't be regarded as plentiful. Yamauchi, too, had limited access to information until she bought a mobile phone during her second year in high school after working part time. She accordingly decided to increase the number of books at the home.

    Yamauchi consulted with Daiki Hirai, the director of nonprofit organization Clack, which hosts career education programs for high school students in need, which Yamauchi also attended, and drew up a plan to have people send books after they learned about foster care facilities. Although staff at her foster home raised objections, saying it was an unprecedented undertaking, Yamauchi finally persuaded the facility's director to cooperate in the project after two weeks.

    In December 2020, she launched the first round of the Jetbook Sakusen, seeking support for the delivery of 100 books. The level of support she received far exceeded her expectations, and she was able to send some 300 books to two foster homes, including the one she grew up in.

    Yamauchi entered a university in Kansai this spring. She left the foster home to start living on her own. Yamauchi, who is apparently a fan of books herself, especially nonfiction titles and essays, said, "By simply opening a book, you can encounter many words, and books are filled with pieces of people's lives. Through books, I'd like to create opportunities for children to form connections with words and other people." She hopes that somewhere down the line, "children will discover what they like or what they want to do," and that "a society that supports such children's attempts and challenges" will be created.

    Messages which were gathered during the first round of the Jetbook Sakusen crowdfunding initiative, which took place December 2020, are seen in this photo provided by the administrative office of Jetbook Sakusen.

    According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, as of 2017 there were 615 foster care facilities across Japan, with around 26,000 children living in them.

    The crowdfunding project will continue through May 31. Donations will be accepted from 3,000 yen, and the initiative will receive the collected funds regardless of whether the target amount is achieved or not. Participants will be sent a questionnaire form from the administrator where they will be asked to write the title of one book and reason for selecting it. The administrative office will organize the information sent in, and order the books before delivering them to foster homes.

    For those interested in participating or learning more, visit https://readyfor.jp/projects/JETBOOK

    (Japanese original by Miyuki Fujisawa, Digital News Center)

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