Adult Group - Fine Work (Japan)
Yukari Ishida, Tokyo (22, student, female)
I had education at the school for the blind in Japan since I was an 18 months old until I entered college. It was part of my daily life that I had class everyday using textbooks in braille. From time to time, I could learn the progress of my learning through nation-wide mock exams. Although that was my standard school life, my mother told me on a day when I was a third-grade of high school, "You are blind. I'm sure you wouldn't get yourself properly employed however hard you try. What's in it for you paying a lot of money and going to college? Companies employ the amblyopic people with a diploma of unknown college rather than the totally blind people with a diploma of top-notch college. They consider the handicapped people a nuisance more than you can imagine." My mother, who raised me nearly for 18 years, didn't believe my potential and denied my future and my presence. The shock what she said to me was indelibly etched in my mind and is still here even now, after five years.
In the summer two years ago, I visited a school for the blind in Dumaguete City, the Philippines, and was appalled by the atmosphere of the school, which was like that of a nursery. There was only one teacher for students aged from 5 to 14. Different in eyesight and academic achievement, those children spent a whole day singing songs and playing hand games without receiving education that matched their ability.
Although English is one of their official languages, a 14 year old student didn't even know the spelling of simple English words. Half of those students were abandoned by their parents when they were very young for the reason they were of no use and were brought up in church. I had imagined what I could help the Philippine teachers improve their skill before I came here. Now I was astounded to know what on earth I could possibly do here.
Parents and teachers treated children as troublesome helpless entities without recognizing their capability or potential. Particularly the totally blind children were told not to move around alone, not to touch anything for the fear of breaking, and just sat still until somebody talked to them or gave something to them. Watching how the adults treated them, I felt inexpressible anger. It is they who deprive children of their curiosity or the opportunity to experience. It is they who raised them to be the hard-to-raise do-nothing existence.
The children being blamed to be drags overlapped myself being how I was treated when I was a high school student. Why do the people negate the potential of the visually handicapped children and try to deprive them of their opportunity to make efforts without every attempting? I strongly felt I wanted to believe in these children, believe that they can start learning and get back their life even now.
Since that night, I started preparing the teaching materials without ever thinking about sleeping. I had coins made of felt to teach addition and deduction in a single digit. I made a maze by gluing yarn to paper to let them practice properly following lines with their fingers prior to reading braille letters. Although students showed fear of having this new experience at first, they started actively talking to me, gradually accepted me, my presence as a person trying to teach something to them, and started showing interest in things newly given to them. About a week later, many of them mastered how to add and deduct numbers in a single digit. If somebody gets really serious, thinks up effective ways of teaching, and gives guidance that matches the needs and level of each individual, they would have never spent 14 years without learning English or how to write it.
There was no end of things that I wanted to teach to these students, such as reading and writing braille, walking, and daily life skills. But since I can only speak English and cannot understand Visayan, their local language, I had a limit on my communication with the students. But there was no enough time. So I failed to win the understanding and cooperation from their parents and teachers about what I did since I came here. If only I could speak their local language and stay longer, and meet more people. I had to leave for home feeling very sorry for all those things I couldn't do.
You can't choose the country or family you were born to. But wherever we are born, we share the same condition, visual disability, but there is a great gap in opportunity available to us depending on the country was born in. How can you look the other way because it's not your business? The present life I have is based on all those efforts of a large number of our predecessors who tried very hard, stood up to claim the right of the handicapped and won the right to expand our sphere of action. I don't think I can just take this comfortable environment for granted. I think the handicapped people living today like me should spread the outcome of all those efforts to the neighboring countries. I'd really like to visit foreign countries, help them expand the sphere of their action, and improve their education environment. I'd seriously like to materialize the environment where "we are allowed to believe in our potential and to make effort" so that all the visually handicapped people in any country can get the equal opportunities.