In Laos I was engaged in Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR JAPAN), an Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) aiming to provide assistance to people with disabilities. Getting to know about the Duskin program from a Japanese wheelchair expert who was in Laos at the time, I was deeply interested in the program. I had been applying to the program for five years in a row, waiting for my dream to come true and finally was accepted on the fifth attempt, learning that I was accepted after passing an interview. I learned how to swim in the fishpond at my family’s rice field before coming to Japan.
Before coming to Japan I did not really know about disability issues, discrimination and so on. I did want to establish a Center for Independent Living but I did not know the way or how to establish it and also I did not have confidence at all. But after learning about these things while in Japan I gained confidence. I very much appreciate Japan (Duskin) and all my very good friends who kindly taught and guided me all along.
I came to Japan without knowing a word of Japanese, not being able to speak, read nor write, and not able to memorize hiragana or katakana at all due to too many farewell parties that ran on for almost a month before coming to Japan. As a result of that I was worried a lot that I would not be able to gain sufficient Japanese while studying; ironically, the more I was worried the less I could concentrate on my studies, and due to being too worried about Japanese my life was not enjoyable at first. Later I got advice from my teachers and I did a little better after two months passed.
Waking up in the training heading to Niigata Prefecture I could see real beautiful snow covering the mountains. I was dreaming about skiing but I could not really imagine it before, but it was full of fun and enjoyment. Riding on a bi-ski from the top of the mountain at a very high speed, I tasted snow entering my mouth every now and then. Bi-ski comes with a molded bucket seat and two skis that can be controlled independently like a mono-ski with hand-held outriggers. It can also be used with the assistance of an instructor controlling stabilizing outriggers and tethers. It was real fun being on the bi-ski, scary when on the lift and wonderful when playing with snow.
My first individual training took place on January 7-21, in Miyazaki Prefecture, and that was where I learned for the first time about Center for Independent Living (CIL) from Nagayama-san and the center’s members. As for my Japanese, it was at that time still so poor and Nagayama-san did not speak any other languages either, he taught me the work, purpose of CIL very slowly and patiently. However, it was still quite hard for me to understand the work of CIL on paper in a very short time. Nagayama san gave me a chance to observe the daily work of CIL when the members came to him for consultation. He also took me to Miyazaki’s Government Office to observe the negotiation work for CIL.
Center for Independent Living”Yah!Do” Miyazaki was the first place where I first made a lot of good Japanese disabled friends. One of my very good friends there was Iwakiri-san. From her I learned a lot of things related to the daily living of persons with disabilities such as being independent, self-decision and so on. Iwakiri-san was a very strong minded lady, even though she was such a severely disabled person. Her disability was muscle dystrophy which was getting progressively worse from the age of 10, and she was now 41 years old, and was able to use only one finger for controlling her electric wheelchair, but she was able to live independently at her own house. I did have a good time visiting her at her house, we talked a lot of things which was very enjoyable.
At Center for Independent Living”Yah!Do” Miyazaki I was so impressed with the way Toyama-san gave me the training of confidence-building. He took me to greet people in a very big hotel after finishing our meal. We did not even know who they were but we greeted them. On the last day of my training, Toyama-san saw that I had no confidence meeting new people, and it is true that on that day I was so shy but after the confidence-building training—whose methodology was also so fun--- I was getting more and more confident when meeting new people.
As for sightseeing the Miyazaki members and I went to Aoshima Island. In the center of the island there was a very beautiful temple, and it was the first time that I saw such beautiful sea.
At Japan Sun Industries I learned that even people with disabilities can work actively. After observing the work of disabled people there, I was trained at Oita Taki, “the wheelchair repairing section of Japan Sun Industries.” My main repairing lesson was focused on spokes; I will be completely able to deal with any spoke problems of a wheelchair when I return to my home country.
From Takahashi san and Matsumoto san I learned how to make homepages. My teachers were also people with disabilities but they were so good at computers and their teaching method was also very good. I could understand the lessons very easily. I successfully created a homepage of my own at the end of the training.
WITH is a workshop created for both persons with visual and intellectual disabilities. As the previous Duskin Trainee from Laos was also someone with a visual impairment and as I wanted to cooperate with her to support persons with visually impairments, I decided to go to WITH. At WITH I studied Braille, Braille printing, and made white canes. I also got a chance to go out with blind people and learned how to help one another.
At Mainstream Association I learned the way to establish an organization from Kadota-san and the way to change the negative image of disabled people of society into a positive way, and disabled movement from Sato-san. At Mainstream Association I was taught “it is very important to enjoy our lives regardless of disability.” I also experienced a lot of things in daily life. Mainstream taught me to live with joy of life. They said to me that all human beings are different -- different appearances, different abilities, different way of thinking and all else is different, but the most important thing is to enjoy our life even if we are disabled. My thinking was totally changed to a positive one after studying there. I learned that Kadota-san had traveled from Osaka to Tokyo in the past for a disabled movement by a wheelchair and I decided to bring that method to Laos for disability movement too.
I would like to express my most sincere appreciation to the Duskin Program, concerned organizations and all the very good Japanese friends. You all gave me a new life, your valuable teachings guided my thinking to a very positive one and gave me energy and power to fight on and the knowledge I have learned from you all (all good friends) will forever be very useful for me and the rest of the disabled people in Laos.
Having experienced a home-stay with Japanese disabled friends I learned the way they modified their house to fit the needs of a disabled person, and their strong spirit to live independently. I will fight to make barrier-free accessibility possible in public places and buses for disabled people inside the capital city of Laos when I go back.