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Schoolchildren in Japan raise $5.5K to save Australia's wildfire-hit koalas

A poster hand-drawn by children during break time calling for donations to save koalas in Australia is seen at Chiben Gakuen Wakayama Primary School in the city of Wakayama. (Mainichi/Ryota Hashimoto)

WAKAYAMA -- To help save koalas which suffered in wildfires that raged in Australia for almost half a year, a group of elementary school students in this west Japan city has donated some 600,000 yen (about $5,500) they raised to an Australian veterinary clinic.

    The pupils at Chiben Gakuen Wakayama Primary School in the city of Wakayama were pained by reports of koalas suffering in 2019 and 2020 forest fires. They decided to do something about it, and organized a charity drive and raised funds themselves and sent the money via a sister school in Australia.

    Sixth-grader Soichiro Kishimoto, 12, organized the fundraising. He recalled feeling sorry for the koalas shown in news reports fleeing the blazes, and that he wanted to save them. According to a final report filed by the World Wildlife Fund's Australian office, some 61,000 koalas were killed or injured in the wildfires.

    As part of the charity initiative, Kishimoto first set aside his entire savings for donation. He then asked acquaintances and neighbors to make contributions, and submitted to his homeroom teacher and other staff a written proposal for holding the charity campaign at school.

    In all, he led two donation drives at the school, one in February 2020 and one in March 2021. As part of campaign preparations, Kishimoto and five other volunteer students spent their break times creating donation boxes, as well as signs and posters among other items calling for fellow pupils to help. They also had assistance from students at their school's affiliate Chiben Gakuen Wakayama Junior High and Senior High School, and sought support from guardians visiting the school on parents' days.

    Every year the elementary school's sixth-graders go on a school trip to Cornish College, a sister school in Australia. Kishimoto and his fellow fundraisers had initially planned to hand over the donated money to students at the sister school during their visit, but the tours were canceled for two consecutive years due to the coronavirus pandemic. The pupils then decided to send the money to an animal clinic in Australia via the sister school.

    A letter from the sister school, sent to Chiben elementary school after the funds were delivered to a veterinary clinic, read that the donated money will be used in rehabilitating koalas and other wild animals and that the staff at the veterinary clinic appreciated the donation campaign.

    According to a report from the Australian school, one of the koalas that has recovered from its injuries was named Soichiro, Kishimoto's first name, to commemorate the charity initiative.

    "Donations can lead to international exchange. I'd like to continue contributions in the future," Kishimoto said.

    (Japanese original by Ryota Hashimoto, Wakayama Bureau)

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