Photo/IllutrationMiyuki Hoshino displays a certificate of merit from the Cambodian government on Oct. 10 in Isesaki, Gunma Prefecture. (Manabu Ueda)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

ISESAKI, Gunma Prefecture--As a child, Miyuki Hoshino, now 92, thought about quitting school because her family was so poor. It was wartime Japan, after all.

Yet, Hoshino completed her education and went on to carve out a career as a teacher at elementary and junior high schools here.

She came to realize that education was the path to a brighter future, no matter where a child might grow up.

So it came as a shock when she first visited Cambodia 15 years ago and confronted the woeful state of education in a country that had been locked in conflict for decades. During return visits, she decided she had a new mission in life: to raise funds to build elementary schools in remote rural areas.

To date, Hoshino has donated more than 20 million yen ($176,400) to that end. Now, because of her advanced years, Hoshino says she can no longer continue with her quest. She is gratified, though, that the latest school to be established, the third to be based on her donations, opened this past spring.

“I can't wait to see how the children who now have an opportunity to get an education will contribute to society in the future,” Hoshino said. “It will fill me with joy if my humble activities help in the development of Cambodia.”

Until she retired, Hoshino spent 40 years as a teacher, eventually becoming the first female assistant principal and principal of schools in Isesaki.

She started providing assistance for Cambodia after a visit there made her aware of the harsh conditions facing local children.

Initially, she sent donations to renovate an elementary school in a farming area of Kampong Thom Province in central Cambodia. By the time school reopened following the end of the Cambodian civil war, the roof of the old building was leaking badly.

Although 360 children were enrolled, the school had only two classrooms. Many of the kids never turned up for classes because their families were so poor and did not appreciate the benefits of a good education.

During a local ceremony to mark the completion of a new reinforced concrete building with five classrooms in 2005, Hoshino talked about Japan's rapid economic postwar growth following its defeat in World War II.

“Education provides a strong base to determine the future of a state,” she told the assembled gathering.

Even after the new school opened, Hoshino made returned solo visits to contribute desks, chairs, textbooks, stationery and other items. She also offered to help improve facilities around the school.

She then raised funds to erect two other school buildings in northwestern Battambang Province, which shares the border with Thailand.

The construction of the new building of Phum Kandal Primary School finished this spring, allowing 600 children to get an education.

Her efforts were highly appreciated, and many children sent her messages of thanks.

One wrote, “I can now concentrate on learning.”

Hoshino has been working closely with the Shanti Volunteer Association in Tokyo to offer support to Cambodia.

Health issues in March caused her to be hospitalized for five months. Given the state of her health and her age, Hoshino decided it is not realistic for her to keep visiting Cambodia and reluctantly decided to suspend her activities earlier this year.

Hisashi Seki, secretary-general of the Shanti Volunteer Association, said Hoshino’s work had inspired many people.

“A lot of people now share Hoshino’s wish to provide opportunities for as many children as possible to break the chain of poverty,” Seki, 48, said.