When Hiroki Watanabe was a university senior, he visited Phuket, Thailand, to participate in a yacht race.
While riding a double-decker bus, the Yokohama native saw a boy of 5 or 6 years old standing at the entrance of a slum area with disconsolate eyes.
“What have I been doing and what has that boy failed to do? The only difference between us is the country of birth,” Watanabe, 29, thought. His sense of shock did not disappear even after he returned home.
One year later, in December 2002, carrying just a bag, he visited Bangladesh, the poorest country in Asia, to support children who have no dreams of their own.
He entered a local university and started gathering information about street children with his friends.
He found that the children were forced by their parents to work to earn money and were deprived of opportunities to study.
He established an organization called Ekmattra to support street children by organizing open-air classes. “Ekmattra” in Bengali means a single note for mutual understanding.
He wanted to help eliminate gaps in opportunities.
Watanabe asked the parents of street children to allow them to attend open-air classes but at one point was almost lynched as he was mistakenly believed to be engaged in human trafficking.
But after 1 1/2 months, parents gradually started to open up, and one mother said, “I don’t want my children to do the same job as me.”
He produced a movie, titled “The Whirlpool,” to introduce street children’s actual conditions and began showing it in Japan. With the money raised, he plans to build a self-help center in Bangladesh where vocational training, including English conversation classes, will be given.
“I would like to give them the maximum chance to be able to become politicians even if they were born on the streets,” he said.