East Japan: Libraries for People with Disabilities

Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR Japan) has been setting up libraries and providing books to facilities for people with disabilities that were struck by the Great East Japan Earthquake in the prefectures of Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate. The libraries greatly help to stabilize the minds of children with disabilities who are likely to have trouble adjusting to the new environment brought about by the earthquake.

 Large-sized picture books have enriched children’s emotions – Fukushima

Ever since the large-sized picture books arrived, it has become a valued time for the staff members to read books aloud to the children.  The ‘picture book room‘ in Fukushima supported by AAR Japan.
”Nazuna Home”, a day care center operated by the social welfare corporation Iwaki Gospel Association, has been entrusted by Fukushima Prefecture to accommodate the increased number of children with disabilities that have come to live in Iwaki-city following the Great East Japan Earthquake. 18 children have registered so far, and the center also supports their parents who are suffering from the anxiety of childcare and living in an unfamiliar place. AAR Japan helped to create a “Picture Book Room” for this facility last April.

Many of the books in the new Picture Book Room are large-sized picture books. For children with developmental disabilities, larger sized books are easier to understand and, as a result, children who previously didn’t like reading have come to show interest in these picture books that are several times the size of their own books at home. The children have been actively involved in reading books and expanding their imagination and creating new stories. The staff members are also pleased, saying that “the children are becoming more and more sensitive to the world around them.”

A place where children can feel at ease - Miyagi

Library Takechan-chi (lit. “Take’s home”) is an important place where children and residents in the community can feel at home.
“Koso Takechan-chi”, a non-profit organization located in Tagajo City, is a facility that 250 elementary and junior high school children with disabilities attend after school and during long vacations. Its structure was damaged by the tsunami following the Great East Japan Earthquake and the institution was moved to the present location three years ago.  As there are no libraries in the neighborhood, the local people wanted to make the renewed facility a place where children can feel at home.

Therefore, last August, AAR Japan was happy to add a library to the facility and contribute 139 books to get it started.  It is now an essential place for the children to stay.  Speaking about the impact that the library has had on the students, Takechan-chi representative Yukio TAKANO said, “Now that the children have a place where they can read books freely, their emotions seem to be more balanced”. The institution is also open to the residents of the community to help enhance their understanding of children with disabilities and is a place where they can get to know each other.

A space to learn about disabilities and to relax among new friends - Iwate

Mr. Nobuyoshi Mitsui (left), the director of Runbinii Art Museum, and visitors who enjoy picture books, and Akiko KATO (right), Manager of the AAR Japan Tohoku Office.
The “Runbinii Art Museum”, operated by Korinkai social welfare corporation located in Hanamaki City in Iwate Prefecture, has a permanent exhibition displaying the artwork of people with mental disabilities.  With the support of AAR Japan, in June last year, a library section was set up beside the coffee shop on the first floor of the museum.  Soon after the Great East Japan Earthquake, there were many cases of people with mental disabilities having panic attacks because of their difficulty in adjusting to drastic changes in their living circumstances.  In many cases they were told to permanently leave the evacuation center where many other people lived.

Based on such experiences, the Runbinii Art Museum asked AAR Japan to assist in creating a place where people could cultivate a deeper understanding of others who have mental disabilities so that they are accepted and cared for in times of disaster and stress.  AAR Japan joined the Runbinii Art Museum in this initiative and donated 339 books to the new library section, including books on people with disabilities and picture books by Kenji MIYAZAWA, a novelist from the local area, which are gratefully enjoyed by the visitors.  In addition, the museum has organized some events where visitors can interact with the artists of the exhibited artwork.

The art director of the museum, Mr. Takashi Itagaki, who has been trying to create a space where visitors of the museum and people with disabilities can interact with each other naturally, said that “through the library section, we are now able to provide a joyful place for people with disabilities and for people with children.”

AAR Japan is proud to remain committed to support the establishment of libraries and to provide books to institutions that care for people with disabilities in disaster affected areas.

※  This activity was conducted with your generous donations as well as support from the Qatar Friend Fund, a charity fund from Qatar with the aim of supporting the reconstruction of the disaster areas of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Sendai Office Yuko OGASAWARA [Reporter]

Since April 2011, Ms Ogasawara has been working in the AAR Japan Sendai Office. Ms Ogasawara herself was affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and joined AAR Japan with the hope to support those who suffered as greatly as she did. Ms Ogasawara is from Miyagi Prefecture and is the mother of two children.“I feel encouraged when I hear people say thank you to me”.
Japanese-English translation by Ms Hiroko HIDA
English editing by Mr Peter BUNGATE

The article on this page has been translated and edited by volunteers as part of the AAR Volunteer Programme. Their generous contributions allow us to spread our activities and ideas globally, through an ever-growing selection of our reports from the field.


Assistance to Syrian Refugees: “Connecting Syrians with the people of Turkey”

Escaping the Syrian civil war that has been continuing since 2011, many Syrians are crossing the border, and taking refuge in neighboring countries. The Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR Japan) continues to support the Syrian refugees that have escaped into Turkey. Yoshifumi KAGEHIRA of Tokyo Headquarter reports.

Ms. Zakiye (center above) who attends the community center opened by AAR, and her four children. Sachiko KAREKI, AAR staff, to the top left of the photo. To the right is Muna Albadran, a Syrian refugee working for AAR’s office in Turkey. (July 8th, 2014)

“I want to talk with the people of Turkey properly”

“There are still some Turkish people who are kind to us, but I think the number of people who feel hostile toward us has increased by far more. The Syrians are placed at the end of the waiting line at hospital. Also when we go shopping, they raise the price if they know we are Syrians. But to live here, we, too, must change. I want to learn Turkish language, and be able to talk with Turkish people properly. I believe that can improve our relationship,.” says Ms. Zekiye (30), who escaped from Damascus, the Syrian capital, a year and a half ago. With her children, she attends the community center that AAR opened in Sanliurfa, Sanliurfa Province, southeastern Turkey in order to support the settlement of the refugees.

There are 180,000 Syrian refugees living in Sanliurfa Province, and among them, 110,000 live outside of the refugee camp. As there are no prospects of being able to return to their home country, many of them are beginning to take the path towards settlement.
However, that path is not easy. It is difficult for the refugees to benefit from or make use of their qualifications and career from back home, and they must acquire new skills. Unlike Syria where the official language is Arabic, they also need to learn Turkish. Also, the number of people who feel animosity toward the Syrian refugees is on the rise, and building amicable relationships with the local residents is increasingly challenging.  
The community center is operated in the rented building located in the urban area of Sanliurfa city.

Class in Arabic language for Syrian children, between age 9 and 12. Children are eagerly learning their mother tongue (July 8th, 2014)

Opening of the Community Center to support the settlement

AAR is training volunteer instructors, and is running vocational training courses such as computer skills and hair dressing, and language classes on Turkish, English, Arabic and others, as well as preparing to open new courses. Also, AAR is planning to provide information to assist the refugees in their daily lives in Turkey on topics such as the availability of official government services and legal counseling, as well as developing the “Turkish Living Guide Book”. In addition, AAR plans and organizes events in which Syrian refugees, who tend to be isolated, can gather and have the opportunities in which to interact with Turkish people. In June, 236 people attended the experimentally organized recreational event, which featured music classes and film showings, over the course of 19 days.
Children gathered at the experimentally organized recreational event (June, 2014)

One month since its opening, around 300 people are registered and attending classes. “I want to improve my Turkish and make many friends. And when I do, I will bring them to the center,” says Fatma (11). It made a strong impression on me when I asked her “which country would you like to visit in the future?” She answered, “I want to to go back to Syria”. Waiting with hope for the day that she would be able to return home, Fatma is actively studying her mother tongue, Arabic.
Fatma who has begun attending after hearing about the center in her neighborhood (Left. To the right, Sachiko KAREKI of AAR).
AAR will continue to support people who are now refugees in Turkey and have decided to settle and grow their roots in this country, so that they may establish their livelihood, and that children such as Fatma will be able to continue with their studies and have hopes for their future.

Note: In the light of the current political situation in Syria, assumed names have been used in the article to protect the identity of the refugees and those who are related to them.

Yoshihiro KAGEHIRA, Tokyo Headquarters, AAR Japan
Mr. KAGEHIRA studied Education Development in Graduate School, and joined AAR after working in Kenya for an NGO following his graduation. He has been involved with the support program for Syrian refugees since November, 2012 in Turkey, working on the distribution of relief supplies and education support. He says “It has been half year since I’ve been in Turkey the last time. I can acutely feel that Turkish people’s view of the Syrian refugees are becoming harsher. I would like to serve for the improvement of their relationship even if it would be something very little.” (Mr. KAGEHIRA is from Osaka)

Japanese-English translation by Ms Hanano SASAKI
English editing by Ms Kirsten GRIFFITHS

The article on this page has been translated and edited by volunteers as part of the AAR Volunteer Programme. Their generous contributions allow us to spread our activities and ideas globally, through an ever-growing selection of our reports from the field.


“Different for Sure, But We are All Just the Same.” AAR Japan Hosted a Children’s Summer Event

On August 20, 2014, AAR Japan hosted a summer event for primary school kids under the title "Different for sure, but we are all just the same; let's think over disabilities and international cooperation," at 3331 Arts Chiyoda of Chiyoda Ward in Tokyo. We held this event one time each in the morning and in the afternoon, and primary school pupils as well as preschool kids with their parents (34 people in total) participated in it.

It is the main theme of this event how to support persons with disabilities (PWDs) in developing countries. The objective was to make children understand that disabilities are not weak points or defects but are a matter of individual difference, like appearances and personalities. Moreover, our ambition was to provide an opportunity for the children to think about the particularly severe living conditions of PWDs in developing countries and to think over what they themselves can do for them .

For this event, some students from Shoei Girls' Senior High School helped us plan, organize, provide on-the-spot preparations and moderate the event.

Minori TAKITA, an intern of AAR Japan, reports on the event.

Let's have a try at wheelchairs

It is beyond physical strength of a person in a wheelchair to cope with even small differences in level of the streets to which we usually pay little attention while walking.
As for downward slopes, we are supposed to move backward so that the person in a wheelchair will not
drop out of it. It is vital for us to keep speaking to a person in a wheelchair while moving down the slope lest he/she should feel scared.

Firstly, we let children try using wheelchairs and have a vicarious experience of how people in wheelchairs are feeling while they are moving around on the ordinary streets on which we are walking nonchalantly in everyday life. While some children having tried using wheelchairs said, "It is fun," "I've enjoyed it," others commented, "Even small level differences of the streets are difficult to cope with, aren't they?" "If I have to keep living like this day after day, I suppose I will be exhausted."

Introducing Saroeun who has been attending school with a wheelchair in Cambodia

Secondly, as a model case of persons with disabilities in developing countries, we introduced to children Saroeun China (14) who is a boy living in Cambodia. At the age of 7, he had an accident, which caused him to be paralyzed from the waist down. He has been using a wheelchair ever since. He was unable to attend school for a long time after the accident, but since last year, he has been attending Prek Ta Mek Primary School which AAR Japan made barrier-free. With the help of his siblings and friends, he has been mingling with other pupils to study and play. We let children share the story of his present life through photos and video.

"In the school of Cambodia which Saroeun attends, pupils study subjects such as arithmetic and social studies just like in schools of Japan," said Satomi MUKAI, one of the staff members of AAR Japan in charge of Cambodia.
Next, we organized group work shops with the theme, "What kind of creative solutions can you think of to study and play with Saroeun if he would be transferred to your school?" Saroeun is a child from abroad with language and culture different from ours. Also, he has a disability using a wheelchair. Against this background, volunteers from the senior high school set up a few case situations, such as school commuting and lunch breaks, to which the children discussed what kind of solution and assistance they could provide to make school life more enjoyable to Saroeun.

While children were working in groups, we took the time for parents to get relevant information. Satomi MUKAI, one of the AAR Japan's staff members in charge of Cambodia, informed among others the harsh reality of persons with disabilities in developing countries and the universal trend on how to deal with the education to children with disabilities, and also introduced the parents to AAR's assistance projects.

"If we are not able to make ourselves understood with words, can we communicate using drawings and pictures?" "It would be a lot of fun if Saroeun lets me have facts of Cambodia in exchange for my telling him things Japanese." The children kept imagining and discussing such issues as if Saroeun was someone close to them.

The theme is what we can do to lead a happy school life together with a friend with disabilities and different language and culture, which is not easy to handle, but senior high school students skillfully lead children to produce their ideas and organize their discussion.
This is the group of children who are discussing the school commuting case. "I suppose that buses will not be running in Saroeun's village, and but I wonder if he would commute by bus to school in Japan." "I have ever seen a slope which can be used for a person in a wheelchair when he/she gets on a bus!" said one of the children.
Children of different ages who had just come to know one each other willingly worked together to think about Saroeun.

A young kid also expressed her idea without being shy.
As overall review of this event, each group made a presentation of their own ideas. There popped out a variety of ideas one after another which will enable children to lead an enjoyable school life together while using differences to their mutual advantage. For example a young participant said, "when I handled a wheelchair by myself, I found it difficult and tough. If I happen to find a person in a wheelchair on long roads and over differences in level of the streets, I would like to push the wheelchair forward for him/her from his/her back,"/ Another participant declared that "I will show Saroeun how to use chopsticks at a lunch break. I would like Saroeun to let me know about Cambodian food." After the presentation, we had children write letters to Saroeun over candy sweets from Asian countries.

Finally, one of the AAR Japan's staff members said, "All of us are different from one another in various ways, but all of us share a common thing. What do you think it is?" Children present at the event instantly answered, "We are all humans!" Through having discussed things with senior high school students, they were able to think about this matter, which is a well-known fact but is immensely important.

We prepared sweets such as banana chips of the Philippines and lotus tea of Cambodia. Candies of durian, king of the fruits, might have a bit unusual scent to them, we wonder.
Traditional folk handicrafts of Cambodia were popular among children, being referred to as "cute." Goods of the AAR Japan's main character, Rabbit Sunny were also selling well.

Various comments of the children and their parents

Today, I tried moving around sitting in a wheelchair. I have been surprised to find that it is difficult for me in a wheelchair to move over differences in level of the streets which I usually cope with easily without paying any special attention. If I happen to see a person in a wheelchair in town, I would like to offer a helping hand to him/her especially when he/she is struggling in such a situation. (A sixth grader)

I have learned that a person in a wheelchair feels scared while moving down slopes. (A second grader)

I suppose that this has been a good opportunity for children to think clearly being in others’ shoes. (One of the parents)

What with physical activity and discussion in groups, I have found that this event is planned in a careful and thoughtful way that children can understand difficult things easily enough.
I am impressed. (One of the parents)

To all the participants who came a long way for this event in spite of scorching heat and also to the students from Shoei senior high school, we would like to extend our very warmest and sincerest appreciation.

With students from Shoei senior high school.
Thank you very much indeed for your great help!

Minori TAKITA, an intern in charge of PR at Tokyo Headquarters office
A freshman of a university. Has been an intern for two months since August 2014 under the program of "Global Internship" sponsored by Dot.J.P. (NPO).

Japanese-English translation by Ms Motoko KOMAI
English editing by Mr Allan RICHARDZ

The article on this page has been translated and edited by volunteers as part of the AAR Volunteer Programme. Their generous contributions allow us to spread our activities and ideas globally, through an ever-growing selection of our reports from the field.


Myanmar: How the community is changed by the social participation of persons with disabilities

Since 1999, AAR Japan has been engaging in a variety of activities to increase opportunities of social participation for persons with disabilities (PWDs)in Myanmar,for example,through vocational guidance as well as educational and employment support. AAR Japan has supported efforts led by the PWDs to deepen local people’s understanding of “disabilities” through the “Community Based Rehabilitation” approach in the suburb of Yangon since 2009. Resident staff Akemi KITA reports how the behaviors and mindsets of the local people have changed during the 5 years that AAR Japan has provided assistance to PWDs.

International staff Akemi KITA (right), listening to the conversations in a printing shop established by a PWDs group.


Typhoon Hitting the Philippines: Building Disaster-Resistant Housing on Your Own

The typhoon Yolanda (typhoon No.30 of 2013 in Japanese numbering) struck the Philippines on November 11, 2013.  AAR Japan dispatched an emergency support team to the devastated area and has since been engaged in supporting activities. 

Distributing house repair materials to 2,224 households 

In the Philippines, 1.14 million houses were either completely or partially destroyed by the typhoon Yolanda.  Victims were covering blown off roofs with plastic sheets or erecting tents to take shelter near their destroyed homes, and forced to live difficult lives.  Since December, 2013, AAR Japan prepared sets of repair materials for housing such as tin plates and nails, and distributed them to suffering families – especially those having persons with disabilities – amounting to a total of 2,224 households (approximately 11,000 people).
“Thanks a lot to the AAR support.  We shall share the learned techniques with the local people,” say the carpenters who participated in the training course for constructing disaster-resistant houses, standing side-by-side with Mr. Yuta Funakoshi of AAR (right). (April 30, 2014)


AAR Attends Third Review Conference of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention

Three staff attended Maputo Summit: (from right) Bashir BAASER from Afghanistan Office, Harumi KAWAGOE from Sudan Office, and Masumi HONDA from Tokyo Office (June 23, 2014)
From June 23 - 27, 2014, the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (the Ottawa Treaty) Third Review Conference was held in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique (Maputo Summit). AAR Japan sent three representatives as members of the ICBL (International Campaign to Ban Landmines) to the conference.


Kenya: Efforts to ensure rural villagers have continued and secure access to clean water

From February to November in 2013, AAR Japan drilled wells and installed water supply equipment in five villages in Garissa County in the North Eastern Province of Kenya to allow villagers that had been affected by recurrent drought to obtain access to clean water. These efforts have lightened the burden on women and children fetching drinking water and has enabled some 5,200 villagers to live a life free from water deficiency even during the dry season. AAR Japan also formed Water Users’ Associations in each village and presented a workshop on sustainability to the villagers. Through the workshop, participants learnt how to use the installed water supply equipment properly, how to perform basic repairs, the collection of service fees from users to be used in the case of equipment failure, and the importance of keeping the equipment clean. Six months after the water supply equipment was installed, we visited the same villages to see how the villagers had been managing their facilities.

In Quabobey village, six months after the construction of the new well, the water users’ association continues to follow the management method promoted by AAR Japan’s workshop. AAR Japan resident staff member, Mr. Shin Suzuki, enjoys a photo with the villagers benefiting from the new well. (front row far left, May 19th, 2014).

We used to spend many hours fetching water necessary for daily life

The Tana River, Kenya’s longest river, is a primary source of water for many villages in Garissa County.  However, the Tana River often floods during the rainy season and consequently most villages were settled approximately 2-3 kilometers away from the river. Among those villages, fetching water is considered a task of the women and children and can take up to several hours per day. An adult woman will carry approximately 20 kilograms of water each time she fetches water from the river.

Mr. Daigo Takagi checking that the water supply equipment installed by AAR Japan is functioning properly. (Quabobey village, Dec 2nd, 2013).
AAR Japan built wells in five villages in Garissa County, each having the dual effect of reducing the burden of having to retrieve water from the river and providing the villagers with secure access to safe water. 
"Before, I used to walk 3kms to the river to fetch water twice a day, every morning and evening. Now we have the well, and my task has become much easier. Besides, well-water tastes better than river-water.” Ms. Rukia Hante (pictured left).

Villagers’ ingenuity “not to waste even a drop of water”

We periodically visit the villages where we built the wells to see, amongst other things, if the water supply facilities are being well managed and if the water users’ association is functioning well. On 19 May this year, we visited Quabobey village and were amazed by the ingenuity of the villagers. We were pleased to find that, based on the systems they learnt from AAR’s workshop, the association has been collecting and saving the service fees from users and allotting it for the repair of faucets and the stockade as needed. Another inspiring discovery was the initiative of the association to establish and cultivate a vegetable field around the well in order to not waste any water spilt whilst drawing. The spilt water is used in the vegetable field to grow vegetables that are sold at the market and all profits are allocated and kept for future repair works. 

A workshop for the water users’ association of Ture village, organized by AAR officer. (July 3rd, 2013).
Vegetable fields cultivated around the new well in Quabobey village utilizing spilled water for irrigation. (May 3rd, 2014).
On the same day, we visited Rahma village and found that the local water users’ association had installed a self-made fence of shrubs around the facility.  As nomads occupy a large proportion of the population in this area, keeping cows, goats, sheep and camels as livestock, prior to the construction of the fence, intrusion by livestock resulting in equipment failure and water pollution was common. We found that other villages had also constructed similar fences around their facilities to secure the safe water supply from similar hazards. 

Hygiene education reduces the risks of infectious disease

In addition to installing vital water supply equipment, such as wells, AAR Japan is working on installing toilets and providing hygiene education to rural villages in Garissa County of Kenya. We provide knowledge of hygiene and educate the villagers in basic hygienic practices, such as pre-meal and post-excretion hand washing, to reduce the risks of infectious disease being contracted and spreading.
※This program was supported by a grant from Japan Platform (JPF), in addition to your kind donations. Since January 2014, we have been conducting our activity with the support of Grant Assistance for Japanese NGO Projects founded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.

Reporter (as of the date of the article) Mr. Shin SUZUKI, AAR Kenya resident staff. Mr. Suzuki worked in the AAR Japan Kabul office from 2005 to 2007. After working in the private sector, Mr. Suzuki returned to AAR Japan on Mar 2014 and has since been placed in Kenya. Mr. Suzuki is originally from Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan.
Japanese-English translation by Mr Masaharu Sato
English editing by Mr Peter Bungate

The article on this page has been translated by volunteers as part of the AAR Volunteer Programme. Their generous contributions allow us to spread our activities and ideas globally, through an ever-growing selection of our reports from the field.