Photo/Illutration Children study with Portuguese textbooks at Colegio Santana in Aisho, Shiga Prefecture. (Taro Tamaki)

AISHO, Shiga Prefecture--Residents here started a crowdfunding drive to help a COVID-19-hit school that was set up as a lifeline for Brazilian children struggling to adapt to life in Japan.

About 80 children in Shiga Prefecture of all ages up to 18 years old now attend Colegio Santana in Ashio.

The school is not covered by the Japanese government’s subsidy program for public schools, so its operations are funded primarily by tuition fees.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many problems for the school.

Many of the students’ parents work as temporary employees dispatched by staffing agencies to manufacturing facilities. Many saw their working hours cut during the novel coronavirus crisis.

And in January this year, a cluster infection at Colegio Santana resulted in a two-week suspension of classes. Guardians in close contact with infected pupils were unable to go to their workplaces for some time.

Under these circumstances, tuition fee payments have been late, making it difficult for the school to continue operating.

Colegio Santana was founded in 1998 by Kenko Nakata, now 65, who hails from Brazil and is currently the school’s principal.

Nakata opened the school after learning that children of Brazilian descent in the area were not enrolling in Japanese schools.

“Many students came here after they were troubled by the language barrier and bullying at public schools,” Nakata said.

Classes at Colegio Santana are provided in Portuguese within prefab housing or private homes.

Local residents set up a nonprofit organization with the school’s name five years ago to help out.

The NPO distributes a bulletin on Colegio Santana and organizes exhibitions to display students’ artwork.

Children also grow vegetables in an agricultural field offered by a group member for use in school lunches.

On June 1, the group started a two-month crowdfunding campaign to cover the school’s operation expenses at (

“We would like broad cooperation extended to protect this important place for children,” said Yasuyo Yanagida, 45, a representative of the NPO’s secretariat.

An exhibition organized by nonprofit organization Colegio Santana shows children’s paintings in Aisho, Shiga Prefecture, in September 2020. (Taro Tamaki)