Yukari Ishida, a March 2014 graduate, is now working for NPO Free the Children Japan. She received the 14th Saffron Award from the General Support Center for the Visually Handicapped, a prize given to those who are professionally independent and have made outstanding contributions to the advancement of culture and improvement of welfare for the visually handicapped. It was the third consecutive year in which an ICU graduate had received the award following Yoshimi Horiuchi (Class of 2007, 12th prize) and Yasuko Futaba (Class of 2003, 13th prize). We asked Ishida about her activities that led her to the Saffron Award as well as about the education at this university that served her well in such activities.
Hoping to improve education for visually challenged in the Philippines
After graduating from ICU, I did pre-doctoral research in development studies at the University of Sussex in England beginning in September 2014. During this time, I was accepted for the first time as a blind person into an NGO internship program sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (managed by the Japan Overseas Cooperative Association) and worked for an NGO in the Philippines. Today, as a staffer of NPO Free the Children Japan, I am helping to repair a dormitory at the Philippine National School for the Blind and to donate a school bus as a means of transportation for visually handicapped students.
I became interested in supporting education in developing countries while I was still in college. Many people in the world are unable to study because of their circumstances or economic reasons. I was lucky enough to receive support from teachers at the school for the blind or from braille volunteers and managed to enter college. I started to think that it is my turn this time to support other people.
I was strongly inspired to pursue this goal when I joined a Philippine study tour of Free the Children Japan after entering ICU. I took part in the tour in the spring of my first year hoping to find out more about what is happening in developing countries. I had an opportunity during the tour to tell local people about what I was doing. When I spoke in English, these people were greatly surprised, wondering, "How can a blind Japanese person like her speak English?" In the Philippines, there is no adequate education for blind people. Ninety-six percent of non-handicapped children can go to primary school, but only about 5 percent of visually impaired children can. Under such a situation, it apparently came as a big surprise for local people to see a blind person come from Japan and give a talk in English, a foreign language.
This experience made me think that, if I could tell them how I, myself, had studied, I could perhaps help improve the environment in which visually challenged people in the Philippines live. I strongly felt that there would be something I - a person who has grown up in Japan trying not to cause trouble to others - could do for the people of this country. So, I started visiting the Philippines every year.
In the summer of my second year, I joined ICU's International Service-Learning program and studied at Silliman University in the Philippines, later doing NGO work in Manila. And I took a year off from my study at ICU mainly to work as an intern at the National School for the Blind in Manila.
The purpose of my activities was to bring to the people of the Philippines the system of education for blind people that I, myself, had received in Japan. There were many things I wanted to help improve, but I was at a loss as to exactly what to do, and how to do it. I did what I thought I had to do even as I felt myself becoming impatient. This sense of frustration grew as I continued to work, and I began to hope to acquire more specialized knowledge and study educational development cases in other countries. In the end, I made up my mind to go to graduate school. After considering schools in Japan, the Philippines and some other countries, I concluded that I should choose a university offering advanced research opportunities if I was going to do development studies at all. I decided on the University of Sussex, which is well-known for its programs on development and education.
Skills in English, presentation and thinking
My study at ICU has proved to be extremely useful for what I am doing today. The first class I would cite is ELP I took in my first year (the present liberal arts English program: former ELA). It is thanks to ELP that I am able to communicate with others in English today. Before I went to college, I hadn't even had a passport. One year later, however, I joined the study tour in the Philippines and I was talking with local people without an interpreter, which has led to my present activities. I am truly grateful.
Other than English, I am happy that we were asked to make many presentations in class and we were able to study a wide variety of subjects in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences.
When I started out at ICU, I first made presentations using prepared texts. As I gradually became used to them, however, I was able to speak more flexibly depending on the place and the mood of the audience I was talking to. There are many opportunities to make presentations -- during my activities in the Philippines, at the graduate school in England and while I am working for the NPO now. I am invited to talk at big lecture meetings about what I am doing, give briefings to donors to various organizations or speak before students as part of education on international understanding in junior and senior high schools. Even if I am talking about the same thing, it is necessary to change the way I talk before different audiences. I think this flexibility is based on the skills I was able to cultivate by making many presentations during my years at ICU.
And in various classes in ICU's liberal arts, we sometimes take up the same topics like poverty and education in the studies of education and history. And that gives us many opportunities to observe differences in scholastic approaches or opinions between developed and developing nations. Having studied in this kind of environment every day, I think I have been able to gain the habit of always thinking from a variety of perspectives without acting on the first thoughts that come up in my mind.
Helping carve out the future for people in the same situation as myself means repaying the kindness of those who have supported me
Around me, there have been teachers in the school for the blind as well as braille volunteers who have encouraged me and supported me without asking for anything in return since I was in high school. I am working every day believing that I can repay the kindness they have shown me by doing all I can whatever I do.
There are many among visually impaired people in the Philippines who are unable to find opportunities to take advantage of their abilities. This is because they cannot go to school despite their capabilities or because they cannot find jobs. Had I been born in the Philippines, I would have faced the same fate. I am fortunate enough, however, to have been able to win a chance to do what I am doing. I hope I can play my part in changing the Philippines at least into a society where blind people find whatever they do are worth their efforts.
In the past, in Japan also, there were people, though blessed with talent, who couldn't pursue careers in the field of international cooperation only because they are visually handicapped. My teacher is one of them. I do hope, therefore, that the day will come when we can create, even if only gradually, an environment where it is only natural for people with disabilities to engage in work for the promotion of international cooperation.
If you hope, even vaguely, to create a better Japan, and a better world, you can always find the way to do so through your actions. Please take the first step toward this action. You will see that something will change.
Graduate, Special Needs Education School for the Visually Impaired, University of Tsukuba
Ishida enrolled in the Division of Arts and Sciences of ICU College of Liberal Arts in April 2009. In the first year, she participated in the Study English Abroad (SEA) Program, going overseas for the first time. During the spring vacation of the first year, she took part in a study tour of the Philippines, finding out about the prevailing state of education for the visually handicapped in the country. Later, she visited the Philippines several times, engaging in activities aimed at improving the educational environment for the blind.
Following graduation from ICU, she went to the University of Sussex, well known for its education and development studies, to acquire specialized knowledge, receiving a Master's degree.
Today, Ishida works for NPO Free the Children Japan, helping repair a dormitory at the Philippine National School for the Blind and trying to donate a school bus to students.