I got the application form for this training in Sri Lanka. As I read it, I thought that if I had the opportunity to participate I would be able to do good work for many persons with disabilities in Sri Lanka. I had applied to the program three times in the past, and was not accepted, but I never gave up trying. On the fourth attempt, I was accepted to come to Japan as one of the 7th program trainees. I was delighted.
After arriving in Japan I spent three months studying Japanese. At first I could not understand Japanese at all and I cried everyday. However teachers kindly taught me and now I am able to speak to people in Japanese. This makes me very happy.
After the Japanese language training, I went onto the individual training. First, I studied at the Japan Council on Independent Living Centers, to learn about the history and movement of independent living since its start.
I then studied further about the independent living movement of persons with disabilities at the Center for Independent Living ‘Higashiyamato’ and the Independent Living Center for Persons with Disabilities ‘Fukushi-no-Machi Zukuri-no Kai’ in Fukushima. I knew nothing about independent living until I came to Japan as there are no independent living centers in Sri Lanka. But after I came to Japan and through the exchanges with Ms. Okuhira and Ms. Nasu(from JSRPD), I wanted to know more about independent living.
During the individual training, I met many Japanese people with disabilities. They have families, they go to places on their own, and live independently. It was a surprise for me. I also lived independently by myself, for the first time in my life.
I also studied peer counseling. I never liked my disabilities very much. In Sri Lanka, I never really wanted to walk in town or go to places where there were a lot of people. However, after many peer counseling sessions, my thinking began to change. I have come to like my disabilities, and I feel that this feeling won’t change even after returning to my country.
My life changed drastically in Japan after studying about independent living of persons with disabilities. I can now do everything by myself, and I have become much more positive: this delights me on a daily basis.
I also learnt about a variety of networks of organization of persons with disabilities, and laws concerning persons with disabilities, which were all new to me and of such great importance.
I then learned, at Ohyata Employment Support Center, how to produce a webpage – as a result, I can now make webpages.
The thing I enjoyed most in Japan was skiing. I was rather anxious at first as I had never skied before. Also I have a disability in my leg. Since I had to ski on just one leg, it was extremely difficult at first. I fell over so many times and my body hurt, but it was great fun. I learnt that if there was someone who could instruct you, and given the right environment, persons with disabilities can enjoy skiing. It was only for two days but it was a great experience.
I also learnt swimming for the first time. At first it was embarrassing to wear a swimsuit but now I have got used to it and eventually I also managed to swim 25 meters.
In Sri Lanka, if you have a disability, you can’t try anything new. In Japan I developed my confidence through various experiences.
The home-stay was also great fun. I went with my host family to a number of places and we also cooked together: my host family was such nice people.
Another fun thing I remember is outings with friends. For example I went to Tokyo Disneyland with Ms. Tabuchi and the staff of the Center for Independent Living ‘Higashiyamato’. I also went to Tokyo Disney Sea with other trainees. It was so beautiful and a lot of fun. Since that time it often appeared in my dreams.
I am certain that everything I learnt in Japan will prove useful when I go back to my own country. I would like to establish a center for independent living in Sri Lanka.
First I intend to tell everyone in my organization about what I learnt in Japan. I would then like to gather people with disabilities and tell them about independent living. For example, in Sri Lanka, there are many people with disabilities who never leave their home and are never given opportunities to study. I would like to think about barrier-free living, peer counseling, independent living programs and laws for people with disabilities in Sri Lanka, so that all of these people can live independently.
Then, after about 10 months, I would like to host a seminar and invite peer counselors from Japan for lectures. I would like to help people with disabilities and people in the government of Sri Lanka, to think further about the rights of people with disabilities and what it means to live independently.
I am so happy that I have become good friends with the other six trainees of the 7th Duskin Leadership Training. I am sure that each of us will go through difficulties and struggles when we go back to our countries. I would like to continue to encourage each other by using email and chat. I hope that we have a chance to get together in two years time or so, and we organize a meeting and report on activities of each one of us after returning home. We would like to share each experience, and if anyone is in trouble, we would like to visit his / her country to help them out.
Lastly I would like to say thank you to everyone. I am grateful to all my Japanese language teachers, the staff of the Japan Council on Independent Living Centers, Ms. Tabuchi and Ms. Ebihara of the Center for Independent Living ‘Higashiyamato’, and the staff of the Independent Living Center for Persons with Disabilities ‘Fukushi-no-Machi Zukuri-no Kai’. Thank you also, to everyone at the Japan National Assembly of Disabled Peoples' International (DPI-Japan), the Machida Human Network, Ms. Yuho Azumi, Ms. Keiko Higuchi, and everyone at the Japanese Society for Rehabilitation of Persons with Disabilities (JSRPD). Everyone at JSRPD was always warm like a family and was always paying attention to us, so that we had no trouble living in Japan.
I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the people at the Duskin Ainowa Foundation for giving us such wonderful opportunities.