Misaki Otsuki can never forget her encounter last summer with a Myanmar boy who evacuated to a camp in Thailand due to Myanmar military airstrikes on anti-junta forces in border areas.
The boy was crying during a prayer at a school for displaced Myanmar children in Mae Sot, a Thai town that borders Myanmar's Kayin State. Some other children were also crying, apparently traumatized as they could not see their parents or had seen them killed in what has become a three-year-old conflict since the Feb. 1, 2021, coup.
"The boy said he did not know how long he will have to stay at the camp, and that he wants to live with his parents in Kayin again," said Otsuki, a Myanmar resident of Japan who wishes to be identified by her Japanese name. "I just wanted to hold him tight and say, 'Mom is here. You are OK now.'"
"But I could not do that. I felt powerless," the mother of two said in a recent interview. "This experience strengthened my determination to help displaced children by providing food, medical, education and other assistance, especially when the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar has only been deepening since the coup."
Otsuki was visiting the school as part of a relief mission by the Chit Chit Khin Khin Foundation, or the Japan Myanmar Charity Event, a Tokyo-based support group she co-heads.
Construction of the school, which caters to about 200 elementary school and kindergarten children, mainly from Kayin, was partially funded by the group.
CCKK was founded in August 2022 after its precursor raised about 15 million yen ($102,000) in crowdfunding from March to April that year to support Myanmar people following the military's ouster of Aung San Suu Kyi and her democratically elected government.
The group raised about 10 million yen from January to March 2023 in a similar scheme. On Jan. 20 this year, it co-hosted a charity concert in Tokyo and raised about 700,000 yen, all of which will be used for displaced Myanmar children.
Military attacks against the National Unity Government -- the shadow civilian leadership -- and its ethnic minority allies have led to a surge in casualties and displaced people living in dire conditions with inadequate shelter, food insecurity, a collapsed health system and disrupted education.
Since the coup, the junta led by Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing has killed about 4,500 protesters and other citizens, and left 2.3 million people displaced in Myanmar and 60,000 others outside the country, according to U.N. and other data.
Observers question the effectiveness of humanitarian assistance that the Japanese government provides to Myanmar through the United Nations and other international organizations, believing not all of the aid reaches people really in need in conflict areas.
Under the current system, bilateral aid, even channeled by U.N. agencies, must go through Myanmar's military government, raising suspicions that part of the Japanese aid -- if not all -- may be diverted to the generals, they said.
Citing such concerns, Win Myat Aye, the NUG's minister for humanitarian affairs and disaster management, said, "We would like Japan to extend aid directly to the NUG, a pro-democracy organization backed by the people of Myanmar."
At present, the NUG and ethnic minority groups control 60 percent of Myanmar's territory, Win Myat Aye said in a meeting with members of the Myanmar diaspora in Tokyo on Jan. 21.
"Areas we are controlling now are not stable and we definitely are short of aid," he said, in reference to the Sagaing region and other severely affected areas.
Aside from crowdfunding campaigns and charity events, CCKK has launched a support system involving minimum monthly contributions of 1,000 yen in an effort to secure a stable source of funding for its activities.
Using around 200,000 yen raised each month from about 90 donors, the group in January shipped rice, oil and vegetables to displaced people in three camps along the Thai border and built a toilet for Myanmar evacuees outside Mae Sot. Otsuki wants more people to join the initiative.
"With three years passing since the coup, people's attention has shifted to Ukraine, Gaza and most recently the recovery of a central Japan region hit by a deadly earthquake," she said. "These are important humanitarian issues, but I strongly hope Myanmar will not become a forgotten emergency."
Together with an increased diplomatic push by Japan, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and other parties for the junta to end the violence, Kei Nemoto, a professor emeritus of Sophia University and Myanmar expert, called for immediate and sustained international assistance to improve the humanitarian situation in Myanmar.
"Media reports show evacuation facilities for survivors of the Jan. 1 quake in Japan need more water, food, medicine, toilets and clothes, and we can imagine that is also the case for displaced Myanmar people," Nemoto said.
"Let us take action to alleviate suffering and save the lives of Myanmar people in whatever way we can, including supporting groups like CCKK," he said.