NAIROBI – Perpetua Mugure, a visually impaired Kenyan tailor, is preparing to leave for Japan after winning a scholarship from the Tokyo-based International Association for the Visually Impaired to study acupuncture.
The scholarship enables gifted and promising young blind people from around the world to study acupuncture as well as moxibustion and massage for three to four years at an institute for the blind in Japan.
Mugure, 27, will spend six months studying Japanese and Japanese Braille before starting the acupuncture course, which begins next April.
“It is a dream come true, and I’m sure I will have a new experience of life once I arrive in Japan,” Mugure said in a recent interview. “This is also my first time to fly, which is a bit inspiring.”
If she succeeds, she will be the second blind Kenyan to study and practice Japanese acupuncture after Filigona Achola, the first African to secure a diploma from the Hiratsuka Institute for the Blind in Japan.
Mugure was selected from a group of blind Kenyans who were interviewed in October last year at the Japan Information and Culture Center in Nairobi.
“We chose her because of her strong will and progressive achievement in the Japanese language,” said Kim Chi Hun, chairman of the association.
In 1995, Kim, 51, approached the Kenya Society for the Blind to identify people willing to take part in an education program sponsored by the Japanese government.
Kim, a visually impaired Korean national who has lived in Japan for more than 30 years, has been helping blind students from foreign countries become self-reliant through training in acupuncture, moxibustion and massage.
“We have not yet recommended her to any institute since most begin classes in April, but the six months of her stay will allow her to get immersed in the Japanese lifestyle,” said Kim, who went to Nairobi to accompany Mugure to Japan.
The ancient Chinese used acupuncture — the science of inserting needles at specific points of the body — to relieve pain and treat a variety of diseases.
Mugure said she views the scholarship as “a vital chance to demonstrate and prove to the world that sight is not everything.”
In Kenya, she said, the only formal career open to most blind people is teaching. “People here have got the mentality that sight is everything,” she said.
Born in Meru, eastern Kenya, Mugure lost her sight when she was around 18 months old after contracting measles. After graduating from Thika High School for the Blind in 1990, she began studying tailoring in 1991 at a training center in Meru.
Along the way, Mugure received a great deal of financial assistance from Catholic missionaries based in her hometown.
“In the beginning, it was really difficult trying to cope with life and getting to accept my situation, but when the sisters came to know my problem, I found some comfort and life became a little easier,” she said.
But how did she find out about this rare chance to study in Japan? “I learned about this program through a Catholic priest based in our home area, where I used to work as a volunteer tailor,” she explained.
Mugure said the priest was looking for blind Kenyans interested in studying Japanese as a foreign language. “For now, the sky is the limit. I want to come back to Kenya and open up my own acupuncture clinic,” she said.
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