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Asia Child Support Stops Children Living in Manholes

By: Stephen Carr

Date Posted: 2001-03-23

It would be difficult to come up with a more extreme definition of deprivation than that of abandoned children living in manholes in 30 degree sub-zero temperatures. Tetsurou Ikema who runs Asia Child Support, an Okinawa City NGO, is dedicated to helping the victims of such conditions, which he encountered when visiting Mongolia. Ikema, gestures at some photographs of children with smiling faces on his wall. “Knowing that some of them would be dead, if not for our efforts, makes it all worthwhile” he says.

Ninety percent of Ikema’s time is taken up by his commercial video business, recording parties and weddings, but clearly his passion is the charity he started. “I really enjoy the NGO work. It is so fulfilling and worthwhile” he says.

Ikema first had his eyes opened about poverty when he was a cameraman documenting bad living conditions in the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam for various Japanese charities. He shows some pictures he took in the Manila’s notorious Smoky Mountain, a human inhabited refuse tip. A girl there when asked what her dream was, replied that she wanted to live until adulthood. That such a mundane aspiration could be a cherished ambition shocked Ikema and it was the inspiration for his present work.

Asia Child Support was formed two years ago but its first steps were faltering. Mongolia used to get 70% of its budget from the Soviet Union. After its collapse there was a dire need for such basic necessities as clothes. Asking friends of friends for donations of clothes did not seem to work. Knowing whom to trust with money was also a problem, as was dealing with bureaucracy in Mongolia.

Eventually enough donations were secured, it was learnt who could reliably handle finances and experience about dealing with red tape was accumulated. It was decided that clothes were best dispatched in large container loads. These cost ¥1.5 million each to ship. Another early project was send musical instruments for disabled children to use.

After the clothes and instruments were sent it was decided to build a house for homeless Mongolian children. One was constructed which houses 24 children and four adult teachers. The house cost ¥6 million to build and the money for it was raised by Okinawan children who sold things like manga comics, games and rice balls at bazaars. “These activities were the children’s own ideas. I did not ask them” says Ikema. A Junior High School in Chatan has been the main focus of these fundraising activities. There are also plans to ask some High Schools on the bases to become involved in the project.

Ikema believes it is important for people to be personally involved in Asia Child Support, rather than just giving cash. “Five thousand people have given us clothes for the project” he reveals “and they all have a personal connection to what we are doing”.

Another fund raising effort has been to exhibit paintings done by the Mongolian children in Okinawa. The paintings, some showing the violent conditions suffered by the children while they lived on the streets, now hang in the NGO’s office.

Eight million yen a year is needed to run Asia Child Support and the value of its work has been shown by offers of financial support from the government. So far such offers have been refused, because Ikema wants to make sure his organization and management is functioning perfectly before he surrenders control. He is wary of the fate which has befallen many other charities, of diverting 90% of their funds to staff and running costs. At the moment he is trying to make sure that 70% of donated money finds its way to the field.

Ikema sees his NGO work as not only helping disadvantaged children overseas, but also assisting privileged children in Okinawa to see what they have and make the most of their opportunities. He has taken nine of them, aged 11 to 15 to Mongolia to see ACS’s work for themselves. There are plans to take 20 to 30 children there again in May.

Other projects planned for this year are to build another children’s house in Mongolia and to look at plans for establishing scholarships for some of the children.

Asia Child Support is not exclusively concerned with Mongolia and will also build a school in Cambodia this year.

For more information contact 930-1508.

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