In Observance of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, December 3 – AAR Japan’s History in Disability Assistance Future Activities

December 3rd was the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Since the 1980s, AAR Japan has been supporting persons with disabilities, as they are a particularly vulnerable refugee group. We continue to aim to create communities that support one another regardless of disability, as described by the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, by encouraging the economic, mental, and social independence of persons with disabilities through our activities.
Sayako Nogiwa, program manager of persons with disabilities, recounts AAR Japan’s history and mission to support persons with disabilities, and shares some stories from local sites.
Children march with pieces of paper in hand that say, “we need support from teachers to enroll in schools.” They are actively involved in a campaign to enable children with disabilities to enroll in schools. (10 October 2018, Cambodia)

Starting with the Thai Refugee Camp and Beyond in Asia
AAR Japan began its initiative in the 1980s at Thai and Cambodia refugee camps by providing supplies such as glasses and wheelchairs. In 1993, AAR Japan started a vocational program for persons with disabilities in Cambodia and in 1996 built a wheelchair manufacturing facility. By 2001 AAR Japan started the manufacture and distribution of wheelchairs in Laos, amid other mid to long term programs. At the same time, AAR Japan opened a vocational training institution for persons with disabilities in Myanmar and supported rehabilitation centers for persons with disabilities in Tajikistan and Afghanistan. When the United Nations implemented the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in December 2006, it stirred the interest of many governments and, in the 2000s, AAR Japan identified vocational training and educational programs for persons with disabilities in Asia as a focus area.
Vocational training center for persons with disabilities in Cambodia operated by AAR.
Focusing on the Support of Persons with Disabilities at Disaster Sites
When the deadly Cyclone Nargis swept through Myanmar in May 2008 during the military regime, AAR Japan provided emergency aid. During my mission, I was surprised to learn from victims that “persons with disability not only have no access to emergency relief goods, but also do not have access to information.” AAR Japan received many donations as well as aid fund from the Japan Platform (JPF). Although the JPF guideline did not specify a requirement to focus on persons with disabilities at the disaster site, JPF recognised their distressed circumstances and were able to execute a large-scale aid program for persons with disabilities. The Myanmar cyclone storm was followed by events such as the Indonesia earthquake, the Pakistan floods, the Great East Japan Earthquake, and the West Japan floods. Through our involvement in providing aid to these disaster sites, we believe we are raising awareness regarding the need and importance to support persons with disabilities at disaster sites.

AAR distributes food at the deeply impacted Raputta district after Cyclone Nargis.
New Activities Moving Forward (2013 to present)
In 2013 we started an inclusive educational program in Cambodia, Tajikistan, and Haiti to enable children with and without disabilities to attend school. Domestically, we supported the reopening of welfare institutions, expanding of market channels and the furtherance of disaster prevention measures in areas impacted by events like the Great East Japan Earthquake and Kumamoto Earthquake. We continue to present and share the knowledge and experience gained through our experience at local sites at international conferences for persons with disabilities, such as the Asia-Pacific Community-based Rehabilitation (CBR), meetings and in journals.

Nogiwa (right) distributing aid and surveying the conditions of the welfare institutions after the Great East Japan Earthquake. (March 2011)
AAR Japan’s Vision for the World and Its Mission
At the international conference held in Beijing towards the end of 2017, UNESCAP (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific) highlighted the issue that persons with disabilities have 2-4 times higher mortality rates than the rest of the population in the Asia Pacific region. Recent incidents such as the Sagamihara massacre, which took place at a care home for persons with disabilities in 2016, and the litigation against the government by victims of the Eugenics Protection Law (the “forced sterilization law”) in 2018 brought attention to extremist ideologies against persons with disabilities in Japan.

What can we do? AAR Japan became an affiliated organization of the Japan Council on Disability (“JD”) in 2016 and since then has collaborated with many organizations and associations on various initiatives for persons with disabilities.

While AAR Japan is an active member of JD, our activities extend beyond supporting persons with disabilities, and we consider that to be one of AAR Japan’s strengths despite having a small team at our Tokyo headquarters. That is because through our various domestic and international activities, we are able to share our experiences with people and raise awareness and understanding about the persons with disabilities community. Leveraging what we have learned, we hope to build a world filled with kindness and will continue and build upon our experience and activities.

Feedback from Local Sites
“I Have Friends and Can Read Now” Cambodia – Educational Support Sotheara (8 years old)
Sotheara (center of the picture) was born with several disabilities. His parents were afraid that school would not be prepared or equipped to accommodate children with disabilities and had never sent Sotheara to school. In collaboration with specialized institutions, AAR Japan provided mobility equipment, provided rehabilitation sessions, and are working to make the school and its premises’ pavements and bathrooms accessible. Teachers and students have accepted Sotheara and he has been going to school every day. Sotheara has friends at school and is enjoying his time there.  Sotheara’s speech is clearer and is starting to read text.
Sotheara has a big smile on his face and is always surrounded by many friends. (November 2017)
“I was Able to Get My Dream Job” Myanmar (Burma) – Job Assistance Hnin Hnin Yae (19 years old)
At 10 months after birth, Hnin Hnin Yae suffered from a burn that contracted her skin, causing her to become a person with disability.  Hnin Hnin Yae took a leave of absence from her first year of high school and joined AAR Japan’s vocational training beauty course in order to work and support her family. “Because of what I learned from the vocational training program, I was able to find my dream job in the beauty industry. From the dormitory life, I learned to wake up early and clean, etc. and to use time efficiently. I hope that many more persons with disabilities can learn from the valuable experiences at the vocational training” said Hnin Hnin Yae.
Hnin Hnin Yae is now employed at a hair salon. (October 2018)
“We are Diligently Operating Our Store Every Day” Sudan – Mine Victim Support - Khadiga
While moving to a neighboring village with her 5 children, Khadiga (person in the front of the picture) encountered mines and lost 3 of her children. Although Khadiga and 2 of her children survived, they were severely injured and Khadiga has scars from fragments of mines on her stomach and the back of her neck. After the incident, her husband passed away from poor health conditions. Since the physical trauma from the mine injuries made physical labor challenging for Khadiga, AAR Japan recommended that she operate a sundries store and supported the start of her business.  Khadiga said that “after having lost my husband, I was unsure how I would sustain my family’s livelihood and lost the will to survive. Now I am determined to live with my 2 children and am diligently operating my store every day.”
Khadiga’s sundries store. She is improving her business by offering unique products not offered by other nearby stores. (February 2018)
Support for a Turkish Family through Home Visitations – Wellbeing Support – “Reem” (13 years old), “Rama” (11 years old)
4 years ago, Reem(alias), Rama(alias), and their family fled from Syria to Turkey. The two were visually impaired and only had 20% of their vision so needed eye glasses. However, the family could not afford glasses as they were too expensive. AAR Japan assisted the family with certain administrative processes involving the Turkish social security program and now the children can enjoy life with glasses. AAR Japan also assisted with certain administrative processes to enable the children to go to school. However, they are currently unable to go to school because they are at home supporting their father who has been immobilized by his hernia. AAR Japan continues to visit their home and provide school supplies or transportation services for hospital visits.
Sisters wearing their glasses. (February 2018)