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West Japan nonprofit raises over $9,000 to open hands-on classroom on global issues

Marie Yamase, head of the Matsuyama Sakanoue Japanese School, shows the web page of her crowdfunding campaign, in Matsuyama, on Dec. 12, 2022. (Mainichi/Yasutoshi Tsurumi)

MATSUYAMA -- A Japanese language school in this west Japan city has successfully completed a crowdfunding campaign to open a "classroom of the current world," a project that aims to help Japanese children learn about the world while building bridges with Japan's international community.

    Matsuyama Sakanoue Japanese School, a nonprofit organization in the capital of Ehime Prefecture, started the crowdfunding drive on Dec. 6, 2022, with a goal of 1.2 million yen. It closed on Dec. 28 after collecting 1,214,750 yen (roughly $9,000).

    A conceptual sketch of the "classroom of the current world," provided by the Matsuyama Sakanoue Japanese School

    In March, 2021, the school opened an "international children's cafeteria" where international students provide meals from their cultures to children. People of various nationalities, ranging from preschoolers to university students, have attended around 120 events there so far, with about 8,000 meals served.

    The idea for the "classroom of the current world" came to the organization's head Marie Yamase in March 2022, after Russia invaded Ukraine. Normally the children liked talking about insects and other topics, but they started asking questions such as, "Do the schools close in wartime?" "Do (the people of Ukraine) have any diapers for their babies?" and "Are evacuees coming to Ehime, too?" Elementary and middle school students were saying they barely had any opportunities to learn about the conflict in school.

    The pre-remodeled interior of the apartment which will be provided by a sponsoring company to the Matsuyama Sakanoue Japanese School for the "classroom of the current world" is seen in this photo supplied by the nonprofit group.

    The nonprofit responded by hosting a seminar in July, with a Ukrainian evacuee support group and Russians living in Japan as teachers, which was attended in person by around 40 mainly young people from within and even outside the prefecture, as well as by others online. There were soon calls for more seminars from those who attended. Yamase thought that she wanted to fill in the gaps of children's strong interest in world topics and the lack of information on such issues in school textbooks. She started the crowdfunding campaign with the determination to create a place where children could learn about current issues in Japan and the world through casual conversations.

    Money raised through the drive will be used to buy furnishings to transform an apartment in the city into a comfortable, cafelike discussion space.

    Yamase says she hopes to provide a space "for children to discuss world issues that can't be found in textbooks with our friends in Ehime's international community, so that they can gain the ability to think of those issues as their own."

    The pre-remodeled kitchen of the apartment which will be provided by a sponsoring company to the Matsuyama Sakanoue Japanese School for the "classroom of the current world" is seen in this photo supplied by the nonprofit group.

    The group aims to open the new facility at the end of February 2023, and will host discussions two to three times a week on themes along the lines of, "what does it mean to be a foreigner?" "Russia's Ukraine problem," and "the difference between refugees and evacuees." While applying expert advice, they aim to develop a unique, discussion-centric curriculum, which offers learning opportunities tailored to the children's age groups, such as elementary, junior high, high school and university. The school says foreigner support groups and human rights organizations from within and outside of Japan will serve as guest instructors and they could possibly connect with the classroom remotely. Participation fees are expected, set at a level that's just enough to cover expenses.

    (Japanese original by Yasutoshi Tsurumi, Matsuyama Bureau)

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