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Attacking problems for handicapped people internationally

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-10-18

On September 25, 1998, technicians representing eight different countries around Asia participated in a graduation ceremony at the Okinawa International Center. The graduates had completed a seventeen day course on "Technology of Independent Living of Persons with Disabilities". The course is offered through "Okinawa Colony", a NPO whose aim is to aid and provide training for people with any type of handicap.

Okinawa Colony, formerly known as the "Tuberculosis Patient Association", first started in 1956 with the goal of eradicating tuberculosis from Okinawa Prefecture and to provide assistance to recovering patients of tuberculosis. In 1972 it became the "Social Welfare Juridical Agency" and broadened its focus to promoting social welfare for handicapped people in Okinawa. It has since that time provided many important training facilities, programs, and jobs for handicapped people, giving them a chance to become more independent.

The organization also began to expand its training programs abroad by taking part in the "Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Person Regional NGO Conference" in 1993. It joined the Bangladesh Social Assistance and Rehabilitation for the Physically Vulnerable (SARPV), providing assistance and support through workshops. In January and February of this year, Okinawa Colony held its first international technical training course in coordination with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), further advancing its assistance to handicapped people in Asia.

The most recent graduates of Okinawa Colony's technological training course were divided into two groups, where they learned about the printing and sewing trade. The workshops gave them the necessary knowledge to help start similar programs back in their own countries, where work for handicapped people is almost non-existent. The trainees also were able to visit some of Okinawa's social welfare facilities to see and learn about new technologies making independent living for handicapped people easier. "After seeing the technology in Japan for disabled persons, I think it is very high level," stated Mr. Kliwon, who is from the "National Rehabilitation Center for the Physically Handicapped" in Indonesia. Mr. Kliwon explained that there are many difficulties facing handicapped people everyday in Indonesia.

One of the most common heard complaints from all the representatives is the lack of "accessible" areas for handicapped people. Steps, small corridors, and unsafe sidewalks become tremendous obstacles for handicapped people wishing to leave their home. The problem is compounded by psychological barriers, leaving handicapped people feeling helpless and unable to do anything.

Nipapan Tipayajak, who is a nurse working for the "Thailand Ministry of Health", knows all to well the problems with inaccessibility for handicapped people - she herself is confined to a wheelchair. She helps other handicapped people overcome their fears at the "Sirindhorn National Medical Rehabilitation Center" by not only providing physical therapy, but also through counseling. "There is still a very negative attitude among the general population towards handicapped people. The inaccessible environment causes many handicapped people to just stay home, so counseling is also very important," she said. The young nurse also stated that the training she received in Okinawa will help her much with her own patients back in Thailand.

Barriers for handicapped people in places like Bangladesh, where natural disasters are quite frequent, can mean life and death in some cases. The shelters provided by the government during these emergencies are totally inaccessible for most people with disabilities. "There is no government initiative. It is true that we have a small budget, but if the government takes the problem of disability serious and cooperates, there will be positive results. but they do not care," said Hosne Ara Begum a skill trainer at SARPV. The problem grows by the day as thousands of children succumb to malnutrition, which often leads to blindness and other handicap causing diseases.

Other countries that have been ravaged by war, such as Cambodia and Vietnam, are often left with many land mines, which kill and maim innocent children every year. Rithy Bou, who is from the "National Center of Disabled Persons" in Cambodia, feels that projects like the ones offered by Okinawa Colony are extremely important. In 1991 he stepped on a land mine and lost his right leg below the knee. He is sure the skills he aquired in Okinawa will also help many handicapped people in Cambodia get the technical training necessary to find jobs.

All the graduates will be returning to their countries, hoping to bring the support necessary for all handicapped people to benefit from.

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