Recently the College Women’s Association of Japan held an anniversary celebration. “Music and Tea” was an afternoon program commemorating 25 years of the activities of Volunteers for Blind Students, a group that is part of CWAJ’s education program. “In April, The Japan Vocational Development Center for the Blind gave VBS an award of appreciation. I am so proud of being a part of CWAJ,” said Junko Abe.
She is this year’s VBS Japanese cochairwoman, leading a variety of activities that provide support and friendship in English for the visually impaired. In other capacities she has been an enthusiastic member of the association since 1986. Earlier events propelled her toward CWAJ and its volunteer work.
From her girlhood home in Kawasaki, Junko attended Yokohama Futaba Girls’ High School. She went on to Ferris Women’s Junior College, where she majored in English. At both Futaba and Ferris, she belonged to the table-tennis clubs.
“I won the championship of the women’s singles in Kawasaki,” Junko said. “After college graduation I was recruited by Toshiba Electric Co., and belonged to the table-tennis club of Toshiba Yanagicho Factory. There was no opportunity to use English in my job there, so I next worked as a receptionist at the Imperial Hotel. Then I went to the Mobil Oil Co. marketing headquarters in Yokohama. My mother was then working for the U.S. Embassy. Through her I went on a ski trip, and met my husband, who was also working for the embassy.”
Junko had two sons, four years apart. “Unfortunately, both of them were asthmatic,” she said. “In those days there was not much information, and not many Japanese specialists in children’s asthma. I felt so isolated.” She began a group of parents of asthmatic children, which secured the support of the Nakahara Public Health Center of Kawasaki. For the next 18 years, Junko organized events that included doctors’ lectures, parents’ meetings and summer camps for asthmatic children. She continued those activities even after her sons were no longer suffering.
Junko decided to brush up her English, and enrolled in a conversation class. She met a teacher whose husband worked at the U.S. Embassy and who introduced Junko to CWAJ. “I thought it was time to do something else for others and for myself. ‘For Others’ is the motto of my school, Ferris,” Junko said.
CWAJ asked Junko to help with their lecture series. “I had no idea what that was, but I found there were many things I could learn from the work. The ladies I met made me more interested in Japan and Japanese culture, as well as others, which I had not expected before joining CWAJ.”
From the lecture series committee, Junko spent the next 11 years in other CWAJ positions. “In 1997 I joined the VBS committee for the first time,” she reported. “Far from what I had imagined, volunteering for VBS was not an activity of giving and giving. Actually you get more than you give through activities with the visually impaired.”
As well as her work for CWAJ, Junko answered an appeal from the Kawasaki International Association, where she was registered as a volunteer interpreter. She said: “I was asked to help the parents of a child who was born with the 5p-minus syndrome. I was happy to translate an American 5p Society newsletter from English into Japanese. I found a book, ‘Rainbow of Hope,’ that is a guide for families with children who have special needs. It contains good information not only about 5p syndrome but also about other birth defects, and how parents accept their situations and adapt.” Junko translated the book, which last year was published by the Japanese Nursing Association Publishing Co.
Junko comes from good stock. Her mother, at 82, “takes ballroom dancing lessons, belongs to a chorus group in Yokohama and studies English conversation,” Junko said. She has brought in her younger son, an independent graphic designer, to help her work. He designed the cover of the Japanese version of “Rainbow of Hope.”
The recent VBS 25th anniversary celebration concert featured a violin soloist, a hand-bell group and a gospel choir. Among CWAJ’s many VBS activities are translating and transcribing materials into English braille, holding educational and cultural programs, and arranging conversation meetings. “You don’t need any previous experience or training,” Junko said. “And you can learn a lot through these very rewarding activities. Please join us.”