Table Speech

“Boys and Girls who lost their homes…
Fifty-year-history of the Youth Welfare Center”

April 22, 2009

Mr. Natsuo Haseba,
Managing Director, Youth Welfare Center

 The mission of our 50-year-activities of the “self-support home” is to take care of children who have left the children’s homes. Children enter the homes for various reasons, such as abandonment, death, illness, detention or divorce of their parents, or poverty.

 After World War II, many war orphans lived on the streets around Ueno Station in Tokyo. About 30,000 children were given shelter in about 500 municipal or private orphanages.

 Disturbingly, the number of sheltered children has remained almost the same at about 30,000, in spite of today’s affluence and declining birthrate, and the main reason is abuse and abandonment by parents.

 I lost my parents in Manchuria just before the end of the war, and was repatriated with my young brother. I was 18 years old then, and decided to earn my living in Tokyo, instead of depending on our relatives.
One day, I came across an article in “The Sun Pictorial Daily” and was greatly interested, as it was about a facility named “Salesian Boys’ Home” in Narimasu, founded by a foreign priest.

 I visited it right away, hoping that they would be able to look after my brother.

 The head of the home kindly accepted my brother and even offered me work there as a “temporary teacher,” as they were suffering from a shortage of teachers.

 While working for war orphans, I graduated from high-school and continued my studies in philosophy and theology. Then I became an English teacher at “Osaka Seiko Gakuin.”

 Whenever I went to see children from the facility in Tokyo, they complained about becoming homeless once again. After graduating from junior high school, children had to leave the facility and start working as “live-in” workers. No facilities accepted them, when they got fired or wanted to quit their jobs. They desperately wanted secure accommodation rather than sleeping in the streets. I was then in my 20s.

 Determined to fulfill their wish, I left Osaka and rented a small flat in Toshima-ward in Tokyo and started to live with children who had left the home. Three boys joined first, two who learned tailoring men’s suit and a shoemaker boy. Mrs. Kazuko Aso (Prime Minister Aso’s mother) visited the flat by chance, found out about the plight of the children and offered generous support to us, even becoming the Director of our Center.

 Thanks to the assistance and generosity of many supporters, in the last 50 years the Social Welfare Corporation “Youth Welfare Center” has become a big organization. We started from zero, and now we even receive government subsidies.

 Children who come to this self-support home can be classified into three groups. The first group has the mentally disabled, caused by their background. Disability can be relieved gradually, yet it takes time. The second group has children who suffer from psychiatric disorder, caused by abuse. The third group has delinquent children, who respond relatively quickly. Today we have children with different nationalities, such as South Korean, Chinese and Philipino, who are left behind by parents returning home. That’s why a 80-year-old man like me keeps studying Chinese.

 Children are all good-natured. We focus on building relationships of mutual trust.

 We never impose our way of doing things. We try to listen to the children and understand their concerns and ambitions. If they trust us, they will gradually come to follow us.

 The most important thing we teach children is to help them view work not as a punishment but as a necessary part of life. We are trying to find the job which best suits each child.

 Another important thing for them to learn is the value of money and they do this from the experience of buying things from the money they earned themselves. It will be useful for them when they leave the home and start living on their own.

 We also give them moral teaching on “kindness” to help them become “good citizens” when they are adults and have to take greater responsibility for their position in society.

 Our priority is to raise a caring heart, not a clever brain. We always praise children, make them feel wanted, respected and treasured.

 Children still long to go back to “their own home,” no matter how terrible that place might have been for them.

 On the annual “home-coming day”, when we see the children come back with their spouses and their own children, we are more than happy.

 Our activities have continued for 50 years, with the conviction that we must assist children to become a valuable asset for the future of society. They are all good at heart, though suffering from a hardship, and thus need friends and help. We always feel privileged to be engaged in such a wonderful task.