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Japanese newspaper readers help Catholic priest to provide education in rural Cambodia

Thursday 3 December 2015, by SIGNIS

Tokyo, Brussels, December 3rd 2015 (Japanese Times/Masaaki Kameda/SIGNIS). A Japanese non-profit organization committed to helping disadvantaged Cambodian children receive an education celebrated the completion of its 19th school there in February.

AMATAK, which means “eternity” in Khmer, has been building schools for children in rural Cambodia since 1995. The educational environment there is “not very good,” according to the Rev. Fumio Goto of the Kichijoji Catholic Church in Musashino, Tokyo, who heads the group.

“One of our missions is to work in areas where other aid groups do not operate,” the 86-year-old said. “Residents in such places need help the most.” Goto stressed that education is essential for maintaining peace, attributing the lack of it in Cambodia to the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime which took control in the 1970s. “The lack of education led to the creation of such a group,” he said. “People, especially in rural areas, were easily drawn to the group due to brainwashing. They were naive as they didn’t get a proper education.”

Meas Bunra, deputy president of Japan Charitable Organization of Father Goto Fumio, which operates in Cambodia on behalf of AMATAK, said villagers greatly appreciate the educational assistance the Tokyo-based body provides. “They now have places to study, they learned to read and write their names,” Meas said. “(Education) is good for a living as people can get a decent job in the future.”

AMATAK started building schools 20 years ago. Some are now showing their age and the organization has received requests for repairs to roofs and walls. Finances did not allow AMATAK to initiate a new school construction project this year. Instead, it used part of the ¥100,085 donated from The Japan Times Readers’ Fund last year to finance the repair of aging schools, according to the secretary-general, Midori Sawada.

Meas said there are still many children in rural areas who cannot afford to attend school. He has received a great number of requests for schools to be built. Because it is vital for the social live in such a rural village However, the Tokyo-based organization has financial hurdles to overcome.

Documentary about the work of Father Goto Fumio

As part of its promotion efforts, AMATAK started producing a documentary film about Goto’s work. Volunteers have helped out in this, including media professionals. Tentatively titled “Pilgrimage of a 15-year-old,” the film, scheduled to be completed in August, will be about Goto’s life from the age of 15, when air raids on his hometown of Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, took the life of his mother and younger siblings. “I’d like to ask for help from those outside Japan by releasing the film overseas,” Goto said.

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