“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.