[From October Issue 2014]
Many women in developing countries still die from pregnancy and childbirth. Hoping to decrease the numbers of these victims, the Japanese Organization for International Cooperation in Family Planning (JOICFP) began its activities in 1968. The main focus of its efforts involves giving women from developing countries the opportunity to have health checkups and providing them with health advice. For the past ten years, the organization has been actively engaged in the “Omoide no Randoseru Gift” (Memorial Backpack Gift) project. For this project, school supplies and used randoseru (school backpacks) are sent to children in Afghanistan.
Peculiar to Japan, randoseru are leather bags used by primary schoolchildren on their school commute. Shaped like a box, these are carried on the back. Back when they were conceived of in the Meiji era (19 – 20th centuries) only children from affluent families possessed them. Nowadays, nearly 100% of children have one. Typically given by parents or grandparents upon enrollment, when the child leaves primary school the randoseru’s six year duty is over.
The randoseru are sent so that more Afghan children can receive an education. In addition to providing concrete support, they create an environment conducive to education. Under the Taliban regime – which collapsed 13 years ago – women were forbidden to receive an education. There are still a lot of parents who think that education is not necessary for girls. In addition, many poor families rely on child labor to survive.
“Many women have lost their lives because knowledge about health and hygiene is poor. If they could read and write, they could acquire knowledge that would safeguard their own lives, and could secure their own future,” JOICFP Partnership Promotion Group Program Officer YUYAMA Satoru says.
“It would be hugely significant if boys and girls made their way to and from school carrying the same items. It may be that if parents who believe that it’s not necessary for girls to go to school see a neighboring girl going to school with a randoseru on her back, their mentality might gradually change. Through study, boys will also be able to protect their families in the future.”
The unique form of the randoseru also helps students to learn. Due to a shortage of classrooms – many of which were destroyed in the civil war – classes often take place outdoors. In such cases, the box-shaped randoseru can be used as a desk.
The campaign to collect randoseru is held every year from March to May and this year 18,674 randoseru were collected. However, Yuyama say that it is not yet enough. “In Nangarhar Province where JOICFP distributes randoseru, it’s estimated that approximately 90,000 children enter school each year. It’s believed that the same amount of children are unable to attend school.”
A randoseru is no ordinary bag. It is crammed with the good wishes of parents and grandparents celebrating a child’s entry to school and packed with the child’s own memories. Yuyama says that it would be nice if, by sending their precious randoseru over, Japanese families begin to think of these Afghan children.
Text: ICHIMURA Masayo