How much is a father´s love worth? After funding construction of 40 school buildings that today benefit around 13,000 students in Nepal and initiating construction of another 14, all in memory of his only child, Ishimaru Yujirou has still not found an answer to this question.
The 68-year-old former chief of Education and Child Welfare Department, Nishinomiya Municipality, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan, lost his daughter Nobuko Ishimaru to a rare congenital liver disease in 2001.
“What I am doing for Nepalese children is a reflection of my love for my late daughter,” said the philanthropist tearfully on an unusually sunny December afternoon.
“Having lost the most precious person in my life, I understand the value of life and know that I must put every moment to good use,” he added revealing his plan to build a total of 100 schools in Nepal in Nobuko´s memory by 2016.
Yujirou´s daughter was born in 1975 with Biliary Atresia, a condition in which there is a blockage of ducts that carry bile from liver to the gall bladder.
The condition requires surgery within three months of a baby´s birth to give the baby a fighting chance at survival. Yujirou´s daughter was saved by giving her a liver transplant from her mother. But even transplants do not guarantee normal life for patients born with the disease.
Apart from leaving him worried about his daughter´s health for the next 25 years (the worry ended only after her death), Nobuko´s disease made Yujirou a member of Biliary Atresia Child Help Society in Japan. He was president of the society in 1994 when he read in Japanese newspapers that a girl had arrived from Nepal seeking treatment for the same disease.
“The girl from Nepal was already eight-month-old, which meant there was no way she could be saved through surgery,” said Yujirou. “I was shocked that doctors in Nepal were not aware of this fact!”
The shock led to curiosity about Nepal, where he eventually landed in 1996. Visiting Nepali villages and seeing that many districts did not even have one functioning hospital led to even greater shock.
Yujirou decided to help. His initial plan was to make a contribution to the health sector. But he was no doctor. “Eventually, I decided that helping improve education would eventually translate into better health conditions too,” he said.
The first school to receive Yujirou´s help is the Dhaneshwar Primary School in Banepa, Kavrepalanchowk. Digging into his personal savings, Yujirou built a six-room school building there.