Abe Keita (Franciscan priest)
Ikuno's (Osaka) Korean Mothers' school (Omoni Hakkyo) has in the past developed not only literacy education, but also openings for other local activities. As I have mentioned before, since the Omoni Hakkyo started using the facilities of Seiwa Church, a nursery school that followed used the church the time the Omoni Hakkyo was not functioning and in this way the church was able to answer the needs of people.
Rev. Seno Katsuo, a Protestant Minister who was at the time the pastor of Seiwa Church, took the decisive step to open the church to those activities. Rev. Seno, together with a social group that discusses the local issues of Ikuno, continued making public appeals to solve the local needs. This group became the Consultative Committee for Local Activities of Ikuno and with the fervent cooperation of people dedicated to local issues established the Seiwa Social Center, through the Seiwa Common Welfare Organization based in Seiwa Church.
Again, at the same time the group to address the local issues of Ikuno changed their name to "Network for Ikuno's local issues," as a place to build a system of cooperation for all those who desire to give concrete answers to the problems discussed by the group. Some time later, the name was again changed to the above Consultative Committee and functions as a mixed group of people from the church and outside that are involved in local activities. This is fulfilling an important task in the Ikuno region.
Another characteristic is that other Christian churches in the region have also opened their facilities to wider local activities. This way, they have fulfilled the important task of preparing personalities to continue local activities in Ikuno.

The characteristics of the Ikuno region played an important role in making the churches offer their own facilities to the people. Ikuno in the late seventies was a place full of family-type small-size enterprises for the production of "Hep" (Hepburn) sandals. The region remains that way, even now, and there are not many multipurpose public halls, groups can freely use and where they can establish their liaison offices. In the late seventies practically the only places available in Ikuno for local activities were the churches, after religious services and Bible study. This way, groups doing volunteer activities in Ikuno gathered in the churches and all kinds of activities, from those of NGOs to welfare institutions located in the region, started to flourish.

Last May I visited South Korea to take a look at local citizens' activities there. As you know, South Korea is probably in Asia the number two Christian Country. Korean Catholics number 4 million and a half, and Protestant Christians all together are more than 10 million.
The "Rural Welfare Program" of Jeollanam-do in Changsung is a comprehensive program in a small town of a rural area and, from the point of view of Korean local activities, is a project that has attracted public attention. Due to depopulation and faced with increasing numbers of old citizens living alone and in need of daily care, Catholic religious, the public administration and developers together are implementing general projects for a total welfare local program. The comprehensive program includes old-folks home, medical institutions, residence for the staff, a daily care center, housing for the old and apartment lots. At this moment, most of the institutions have been built and many people working in welfare activities visit the place and ask for the conditions to live there.
Near Seoul a welfare town that includes a big Welfare University has been built. In Korea to build institutions dedicated to establish a total welfare system in order to answer local needs, is possible because Korea is a Christian society where many Christians are in administrative work. The starting of the projects and the organization of supporters' associations go hand in hand and thus enough funds can be collected. Compared to Ikuno, where groups of volunteers and NGOs gather each time to answer the local needs, I felt there was a big contrast. Again, there is a difference especially negotiating with the administration with regard to racial discrimination. That is, to look for the money needed for activities, without demanding official funds.
Many local activities in Ikuno, including the Omoni Hakkyo that has continued for the last 25 years, are autonomous. Although there is no financial support from Mindan or other supporting organizations, Seiwa's social center lends cheaply facilities and equipment and that way local activities can continue. Different from big groups and moral corporations, there is no need to publish yearly reports. The content of the activities is elastic and only every five years a seasonal report is published.
As a result, the activities could be promoted with free creativeness and without outside influence. Due to its autonomy, there were times of financial difficulties and no big projects could be adopted. But saying it in a different way, people could concentrate their efforts on learning together literacy that was the main goal. Local groups like, "Ikuno's Ethnic Cultural Festival" make drives to raise funds, but like the Omoni Hakkyo they are not enough to hold on and almost all the burden falls on the volunteer staff.

Recently, the work of "Community Based Organizations" (CBO) attracts the public attention together with NGOs. It has been confirmed that, the residents of a place and not the outsiders are the ones suitable to solve local issues at grass roots levels. In this sense, Ikuno's Omoni Hakkyo and other local activities, started as an answer to the voices of the people and spread along the region. They are rooted in Ikuno.
Again, I feel that the episode of a church becoming the location for the Omoni Hakkyo, in contrast with the big comprehensive Korean welfare program I wrote above, inspires the Christian churches in non-Christian Japan to open their facilities as a way to become part of local society. On the other hand, the facilitation of a place to hold activities is an important factor for local action.
Finally, the course followed by the activities in Ikuno for a quarter of a century is not only a historical step, but it can be said that is one model case of local social involvement that shows the role a region where many foreigners live can accomplish.

On July 20 from 1:00PM there will be an event with an exhibition of works made by the Korean women, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Omoni Hakkyo. A collection of works will be published in November. For further details, please contact the Seiwa Social Center (tel.06-6718-1750)

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