At one of Ashinaga’s Summer Camps, President Yoshiomi Tamai (front row, in blue) joins 100 orphaned children from 20 countries and 300 orphaned Japanese college students who have come together to support each other, emphasizing their common experiences rather than cultural and language barriers.
Life for young people today is tough enough without losing a parent. Add the enormous impact of disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis and the AIDS epidemic, not to mention the crushing weight of poverty, and bright young people worldwide need all the educational and emotional support they can get.
That’s why for nearly 50 years, Ashinaga, a non-profit organization founded and based in Japan, has been providing educational funding and psychological support to children who have lost one or both parents from illness, accidents, suicides, and disasters. To date, the organization has raised more than $1 billion, empowering more than 95,000 orphaned students to finish their high school and university educations.
Ashinaga’s extraordinary success in its home country of Japan, based in large part on anonymous individual donations, has grown into a worldwide movement focused on educating and nurturing future leaders who will contribute to society via caring attitudes, open minds, the energy to act, and an international perspective – with a special focus on the continent with the youngest and fastest-growing population facing the greatest challenges, Africa.
The creation of Ashinaga USA in the United States marks an important step and a natural progression, giving Americans the chance to become part of the Ashinaga movement.
The original edition of Daddy-Long-Legs, the famous novel by American author Jean Webster.
Ashinaga is named for Jean Webster’s 1912 American novel Daddy-Long-Legs, (“Ashinaga” means “long legs” in Japanese), in which an orphaned girl’s college education is sponsored by an anonymous benefactor. The organization got its start when founder and current President Yoshiomi Tamai, having lost his own mother to a reckless driver, founded the “Association for Orphans of Traffic Accidents,” which later became the “Association for Natural Disaster Orphans,” and finally Ashinaga, serving iji, or orphaned children (defined in Japan as a child who has lost either one or both of their parents) in general.
A core element of the Ashinaga philosophy is that children who have lost parents should support each other. In that spirit, and in the spirit of the novel, the organization developed the first anonymous donation system in Japan, in which Ashinaga students conduct street-corner fundraising campaigns twice a year. Ashinaga receives no government support; it is funded solely by contributions from private individuals and companies.
In addition to scholarships, Ashinaga provides emotional support to children who have lost one or both parents as a result of illness, accident/disaster, or suicide, as well as children who have a parent with a disability that prevents them from working. This is accomplished through day programs and camps for younger orphaned children at the organization’s “Rainbow Houses” in Tokyo, Kobe and Tohoku. In addition, nearly 150 orphaned college and university students live at Ashinaga residential facilities in Tokyo and Kobe. There are also camps for orphaned high school and college/university students in the summer.
Sub-Saharan Africa remains one of the world’s regions most affected by the global HIV epidemic. In Uganda alone, 1.9 million children, or 10% of the country’s population, have lost parents due to HIV/AIDS. Once these children lose their parents, many of them drop out of school.
This situation led Ashinaga to open the first Rainbow House outside Japan, near the Ugandan capital of Kampala, in 2003. There, each year, Ashinaga Uganda provides psychological and educational support to some 800 bereaved children who have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS. In addition, since 2007 the “Terakoya” Education Program at the Uganda Rainbow House has maintained a consistent enrollment of some 60 children ranging aged 8 to 15 who learn basic academic skills; after these students complete the program, they can study at regular schools on Ashinaga scholarships.
Currently fourteen Ugandan students who have lost parents to HIV/AIDS study on Ashinaga scholarships at some of the most prestigious universities in Japan, living at Ashinaga-run dormitories in Tokyo and Kobe. Since 2006, more than 50 orphaned students from developing countries have studied at universities in Japan and the United States thanks to Ashinaga-san.
Mr. Okazaki graduated with a BA from Asia University in 1992 and earned an MA in psychology from New York University. After he lost his father to a traffic accident at the age of two, he went to high school and university with support from Ashinaga. Upon graduation, he joined Ashinaga.
Mr. Tamai graduated with a degree in economics from Shiga University in 1958. He initially worked for a securities company and as an economic journalist, but the loss of his mother to a hit-and-run driver caused him to become Japan’s foremost advocates for victims of traffic accidents, and he secured initial funding that in 1969 established the Scholarship Foundation for Traffic Accident Orphans, for which he was appointed Executive Director. In 1989, he decided to extend the circle of his efforts to children who had lost parents for reasons other than traffic accidents, but he encountered unexpected internal bureaucratic obstacles, and resigned in protest in 1994. One month later, Mr. Tamai was appointed vice president at Ashinaga, which had been established in 1993 to provide educational loans and emotional care to children who had lost one or both parents to illness, natural disasters, and suicide. He became president of the organization in 1998, and remains so to this day. Now 80, Mr. Tamai still vigorously travels overseas to meet with business leaders and representatives of top universities, whom he asks for support and cooperation in order to realize the goals of the Ashinaga movement worldwide.
Mr. Fujimura graduated with a BA from Hiroshima University in 1973 and received an honorary doctorate from the University in 2014. Upon graduation, he entered Ashinaga Japan and was in charge of a Japan-Brazil exchange program. He worked for Ashinaga Japan until he was elected to Japan’s House of Representatives in 1993. In September 2011, he was appointed as the Chief Cabinet Secretary in the cabinet of then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. He left office in December 2012. He actively supports President Tamai and also travels around the world to meet with business leaders and representatives of top universities, whom he asks for support and cooperation.
As Assistant to the President of Vassar College from 2004-2014, he served as the College’s initial and continuing primary contact with representatives from Ashinaga Japan.
Ms. Terao is the Founder and Director of Msterio.org, a company that uniquely connects young people through shared experience for mutual understanding and respect.… She is also a member of the Japanese-American Association and US-Japan Council.
Dr. Takemaru is Associate Professor of Pharmacological Sciences at the School of Medicine, State University of New York at Stony Brook.
Director at International Internship Program, Princeton University
To help further its mission, Ashinaga also has established an Advisory Board consisting of influential individuals (known as The Kenjin-Tatsujin Council) from throughout the world, who can serve as mentors for the Ashinaga movement.
The Japanese words kenjin and tatsujin do not have precise English equivalents. Kenjin can be roughly translated as “wise person” and tatsujin as “expert.” The members of the Kenjin-Tatsujin Council, which advises the Ashinaga movement worldwide, are that and much more. Each has achieved success at the top of his or her respective field, whether as academics, entrepreneurs, artists and performers (such as musicians, designers, and film directors), or athletes. What they all share in common, besides excellence in their individual fields, is a commitment to social justice and global citizenship, and to the Ashinaga movement’s efforts everywhere to help achieve those goals.
The Council’s current membership includes 67 distinguished names from across the globe, and continues to grow. Members provide valuable advice and counsel for the Ashinaga Africa Initiative. They support Ashinaga in developing the institutional trust and authority necessary for fundraising, and in establishing relationships with universities. They also advise Ashinaga about finding suitable matches between scholarship students and universities outside of Africa. Where possible, Council members visit and interact with Ashinaga’s scholarship students during their period of study.
The current membership of the Kenjin-Tatsujin Council is as follows: