Lokesh Khadka, a 23-year-old deaf Nepalese, is determined to change the society of his home country so that it will accept people with hearing disabilities.
He has just completed 10 months of training in Japan that included a half year at three different institutes — an independent-living village in Kyoto, a school for the deaf and a sign-language school — arranged by the Japanese Federation of the Deaf.
“In Nepal, the government doesn’t provide enough information to the deaf. The deaf are discriminated against, with lower wages than others performing the same work,” Khadka said in sign language.
“Here in Japan I learned a lot about movements for the deaf that I never knew,” he said. “Back home, I want to show people the videos I took in Japan to try to change the conditions there.”
Because the deaf receive so little information about the world, he hopes to make a school in Nepal to train sign-language interpreters.
Khadka is one of nine people from Mongolia, South Korea, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, the Philippines, Malaysia, Pakistan and China ranging in age from 23 to 32 who participated in a program in Japan to train leaders among those with physical disabilities in other parts of Asia.
The annual program was organized by the Japanese Society for Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities, a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization, with financial support from the Duskin AINOWA foundation, a welfare organization run by Duskin Co.
Unlike other training programs where participants are simply “taught” things, the program places emphasis on making the participants take initiative and actively learn.
Under the 10-month program that started last August, the participants first took three months of language training in spoken or signed Japanese, depending on their disabilities, then took a six-month session starting in November in their fields of interest. They returned to Tokyo in May to finish off their leadership training.
The fields they chose for their half-year training varied from institutes supporting the disabled to a factory that repairs wheelchairs. They went to locations all over Japan from Hokkaido to Okinawa.
They stayed at institutions where they received the training or at the homes of local people, and also learned about Japanese culture, including trying on kimono and visiting shrines on New Year’s Day.
During the six months, the participants sent weekly reports in Japanese to the organizer, in the hiragana or katakana that they had just learned.
In the leadership training, they visited various organizations, companies and government institutions, spending many evenings in heated debate about disabled people’s rights and movements.
Attanayake Hemantha Kumara, 25, who is blind, said he learned in a vocational aid center in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, that even the disabled can work and make money if they have creativity and originality.
“I want to make a company in Sri Lanka to create jobs for the disabled,” he said. Lamenting the situation in his country, he added, “In Sri Lanka, the largest part of the money is spent in war. War increases the number of disabled. If the money could be spent for the disabled, the situation would change considerably.”
When the six-month training period came to an end, the participants proposed to the organizer that they wanted to hold a symposium to round off their experiences and to make appeals based on the needs of each of their countries.
The event was approved by financial supporter Duskin and was arranged as part of a pre-event to mark the final year of the Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons. The decade was declared by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in 1993, and its closing forums will be held in Japan later this year.
“Is the world of mankind really fair? Men, those with money or power, are strong, but women and the disabled are not,” Park Chan O, a 32-year-old South Korean wheelchair user who suffered a spinal cord injury, said in the symposium titled “Aiming for a Society for Everyone.”
Although the South Korean government set April 20 as a day for the disabled, Park said he and his friends refuse to join events held by the authorities, because “the days of the disabled number 365 a year,” he said during the gathering, in which all speeches and presentations were in Japanese.
“In Indonesia, there is a vicious circle wherein the disabled become poorer and poorer,” said Cucu Saidah, 27, whose legs are deformed. “Because people don’t recognize our abilities, there is less opportunity for the disabled to receive education, resulting in lower wages and their children again not being educated.”
About 180 people from different organizations supporting the disabled also participated in the gathering, which ended in a joint appeal to establish a network of the disabled for independent living in Asia and the Pacific.
Masako Okuhira, 45, organizer and assistant manager in charge of youth training of the Tokyo NPO established in 1964, said that although the program participants now seem determined to make a better society, many of them were shy when they arrived in Japan.
“Many of the nine used to just accept how things were, and how they were treated. They did not see their problems as social problems,” she said. “But the training sessions and daily debates in Japan turned them into assertive, strong individuals.”
For example, five of the nine who are wheelchair users first felt they were better off in Japan when they arrived, Okuhira said.
While in many of their countries normal wheelchairs cannot be used due to road conditions, here they were thrilled to have access to electric wheelchairs, which they had never even seen before.
But as the training proceeded, the participants stopped just admiring the conditions in Japan after realizing the reality surrounding those with disabilities in this country. They started making requests to subway workers about better station access, for example.
“The training and knowledge about individual rights empowered them. Maybe even too much so,” laughed Okuhira, citing the amount of energy they started to exert questioning everything around them.
The participants are determined to put the contacts and network they made and the skills they acquired to good use back in their home countries.
Muhammad Shafiq-ur-Rehman, 25, wishes to build the first independent-living center for the disabled in Pakistan. To raise awareness in the Pakistani government, he plans to hold a seminar in Pakistan next February, inviting disabled people and related organizations from all over the world.
“Only highly motivated people, determined to use their experience positively back home, can become leaders of the disabled,” said Okuhira, who was elated to see the development of the nine participants.
“Japan has advanced welfare aspects compared with many of the participants’ home countries, and is a major aid donor for them. One of the aims of our project, however, is to train young people who can challenge their governments’ systems — so each country can be self-supportive rather than being used to receiving support,” she said.
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