Japanese woman says fate has ordained that she loves and helps orphaned and disabled children in the central city of Da Nang
Midori Takeuchi teaches customers how to make handicrafts at the Sakura Friends Café in the central city of Da Nang. The Japanese woman has been engaged in charitable work in Vietnam since 1995. / PHOTO: AN DY
Over the past 18 years, Midori Takeuchi has been busy living up to her name, which means “green” – the color of hope – in Japanese.
She has nurtured and helped realize the aspirations of orphans and disadvantaged children at Da Nang’s children welfare center, the Village of Hope, for a better life.
She teaches them to make handicrafts, has opened a café for them to work, and gives them a place to call home.
The 67-year-old woman said her bond with the children was forged in 1995 when a Japanese women association called FEMIN became a sponsor for the center.
The association, where she is a member, was then responding to a call by Le Ly, a Vietnamese woman who was active in charities in Japan, for helping children in her native country.
Ly recommended that association members visit Da Nang, her hometown, and choose a children’s welfare center there to help.
“When we visited the Village of Hope, the children were very cute,” Takeuchi said.
Since then FEMIN has sent not only funds to the center, but also its members to establish relationships with the kids.
Takeuchi herself even stayed for a whole year in Da Nang in 2006, and made many more trips after that, although she has her own family – husband living in Tokyo and son in Shanghai.
She lives in Vietnam so often that she has become friends with her neighbors who taught her to speak Vietnamese, cook local food, and accompanied her on travel trips.
Takeuchi said that as a person who has experienced post-war hardship in Japan, she could feel the pains and losses that Vietnam suffered after the Vietnam War ended in 1975.
“I wanted to do something to help Vietnam.”
In 2011, together with some members of FEMIN and the Japan-Vietnam Friendship Group, including her husband, she founded Sakura Friends Café to give the children a place to work after graduating from the village when they are 18.
At the café, which is designed in Japanese style and serves Japanese foods and drinks, classes are held on Japanese and Vietnamese culture, and the kids are taught how to cook and work as waiters and waitresses. Once they gain enough expertise and experience, they are introduced to other places.
Takeuchi and her partners also opened a sewing factory, Art Sakura, where children with disabilities are taught make Japanese handicrafts like dolls and decorations. The products are taken to Japan and sold to raise funds for the group’s activities in Vietnam.
Takeuchi said six founders take turns every three months to manage the café and the factory. When they return to Japan, they buy more materials for the businesses.
Besides providing vocational training, they have also sent many children to local universities and schools in Japan.
Le Thi Ngoc, who was admitted to the village when she was seven years old, said thanks to Takeuchi’s encouragement and support, she was able to study at the College of Commerce. Since her graduation, Ngoc has worked at the café temporarily while looking for a job.
“When we were at the village, we received both physical and spiritual support. When we left the village, we were helped in finding a job,” Ngoc said, expressing her gratitude to Takeuchi and her partners.
Even as she helps children study and get jobs, the most important thing that the Japanese woman does is to give them a family. She rents a house where she lives with children who cannot find or cannot afford to rent a room.
“Living and working with Takeuchi, we have learned many things, especially how to live responsibly with ourselves and surrounding people, and how to work with seriousness and sincerity, whatever the job is,” Ngoc said.
Takeuchi said many people have asked her and her partners why they did not help needy Japanese instead.
“It is simply fate. We were fated to help children at the Village of Hope. When you see a community that really needs you, you cannot, or rather do not want to, leave them.
“My job is to do things for the community, so it does not matter whether it is in Japan or Vietnam.”
However, the Japanese woman said she is not so sure about why she has such a strong, prolonged attachment to the Vietnamese kids.
“When I first came to the village, I did not think that my connections to the kids will last that long. But seeing them grow up, I know that I can’t leave them.”
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