originally published in the year 2000 in the magazine “Disability Research vol. 28 issue 1”
OUTLINE: The central force in achieving full participation and equality for people with disabilities is the organizations and movements of people with disabilities themselves. The Japanese Federation of the Deaf (JFD) made great progress in the advancement of welfare for Deaf people in Japan through Deaf rights movements conducted after World War II. Based on these experiences, JFD hosted the 9th World Congress of the Deaf in 1991 in Tokyo. The “Asian Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons, 1993-2002” presented another opportunity for advance. As a member of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), JFD has been playing an active role in helping to establish and develop Deaf organizations in Asia. One of our major projects is the “Leadership Training of Asian and Oceanian Deaf Persons”, commissioned by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The training program was initiated in 1995, and a total of 39 persons have been trained in the 5 courses completed so far.
Furthermore, JFD utilized the Japan Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications Postal Savings for International Voluntary Aid to help establish a common national Sign Language in Thailand through the publication of a Thai Sign Language book. JFD also established the “Asian Deaf Friendship Fund” to pool donations from JFD member associations and other organizations, to be used for such purposes as supporting the annual WFD Regional Secretariat in Asia/Pacific Representatives Meeting, which is hosted in turn by one of the member countries, providing scholarships to students in schools for the Deaf, providing funds to expand the facilities of the Deaf school in Nepal, etc. These projects are carried out with consideration of the specific requests and needs of the organizations receiving support, and with the objective of strengthening and developing the self-reliance of those bodies.
KEY WORDS: independent and autonomous organizations of disabled persons, Deaf society or Deaf community, WFD Regional Secretariat in Asia/Pacific (WFD RSA/P), Leadership Training of Asian and Oceanian Deaf Persons, Asian Deaf Friendship Fund, nationwide unification of the Sign Language.
The central force in the movement to achieve “full participation and equality” of persons with disabilities is the existence of organizations of the disabled themselves, and movements conducted by these organizations. This is, theoretically, the ultimate aim of all international movements of disabled persons, and is based on a firm conviction acquired through experiences in our rights movements.
By the end of the “UN Decade of Disabled Persons” in 1992, our Japanese Federation of the Deaf had achieved much, such as the amendment of Article 11 of the Civil Law, the amendment of the Traffic Law to partially enable the acquisition of drivers’ licenses, the establishment of a Sign Language interpreter system, although only in its primitive stages, the passing of legislation to build “Information Centers for the Hearing Impaired”, etc. Although still far from a complete achievement of our goals, JFD and the Deaf people were encouraged by these achievements to move forward toward “full participation and equality”.
At about this time, in 1991, JFD hosted the “9th World Congress of the Deaf” in Tokyo. This undertaking was significant both for its scale and its contents, and paved the way toward the start of the “Asian Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons” in 1993. At this stage, JFD resolved to play an active role in international projects for the Deaf.
A study of the history of Deaf people reveals that they are skilled at building a strong sense of solidarity. Their strong solidarity resembles that of the blind people, and can be seen in Deaf communities throughout the world. We call this naturally formed social solidarity the “Deaf society” or the “Deaf community”. This solidarity is based, not only in common interests and common experiences of discrimination and inflictions, but also in the fact that the Deaf possess a common means of communication. It is correct, therefore, to view the Deaf society as a linguistic community, bound together by a common language. Unless we understand this sense of solidarity, uniquely characteristic of the Deaf society, we will not be able to understand the natural formation of international solidarity among Deaf communities of the world, nor the real nature of that solidarity.
JFD’s international activities began with the sending of its first delegate to the 5th World Congress of the Deaf held in Warsaw, Poland in 1967. Full-scale participation began from the 7th World Congress of the Deaf held in Washington, USA in 1975. Supported by the Japan Shipbuilding Industry Foundation, JFD sent over 10 delegates to this Congress. Since then, JFD started sending a delegation to the World Congress regularly. At this stage, however, delegates were sent solely for the purpose of participation. The Japanese Deaf community was not ready to take on the responsibilities involved in international solidarity or international contribution. Japan was still far behind the advanced countries in the field of social welfare, and had much to learn from others.
Japan hosted the Representatives Meeting of the WFD Regional Secretariat in Asia/Pacific for the first time in 1986 in Kyoto. It was at this meeting that the Asia/Pacific countries recognized their actual situation for the first time. Seven countries participated in this Meeting: New Zealand, China, Indonesia, Australia, Thailand, Kuwait, and Japan. Sign Language was to be used as the means of communication, but because of the lack of international experience, it was anticipated that communication would pose a big problem. The members, therefore, invited Dr. Yerker Anderssen, who was then the President of WFD, and under his guidance on communication, managed to operate the Meeting. At the time, International Sign was being developed mainly in Europe for the promotion of international exchange, but it was not yet in the stage of practical use. I recall that at the first conference, what with the culture shock and all, we were not able to hold substantial discussions and ended with just getting to know each other. However, it was this Meeting that became a foundation for friendship and cooperation among Asian and Pacific countries. After this Meeting, sports events and other opportunities for international friendship increased in number. JFD decided to focus the target of its international friendship and support activities on the Asian and Pacific region.
In Asia/Pacific countries other than Australia and New Zealand, it was very difficult to find Deaf organizations which were autonomously managed, with a sound organizational structure, and performing significant activities. Therefore, prior to mutual exchange and contributions, JFD felt the need to support these countries to develop and strengthen their organizations and activities, and focused its international aid program first on organizational support.
1. Training Program by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)
JFD held the 5th “Leadership Training of Asian and Oceanian Deaf Persons”, under the sponsorship of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), for about 50 days from Oct. 3 ~ Nov. 21, 1999 at JICA’s Osaka International Centre (OSIC). 8 Deaf leaders chosen from such countries as Cambodia, China, Malaysia, Mongol, Nepal, Philippines, and Thailand participated in the training program. The program included lectures on Japan’s welfare systems for the Deaf and on Deaf rights movements, as well as observation tours to “information centers” for the Deaf such as the Osaka Deaf Center and Kyoto Center for the Hearing Impaired, as well as to vocational aid centers for the Deaf such as “Nakamano Sato” and “Ikoi-no-Mura”. The program also placed importance on practical experiences. The trainees met the Deaf people of Japan, sign Language interpreters, and members of Sign Language study groups (called “Sign Language Circles”). They attended meetings held by the Deaf, and participated in Deaf events. Such a program was made possible thanks to the fact that JICA respected the opinions of JFD, which was directly in charge of the program.
The trainees became friends with many Deaf people and Sign Language interpreters in Japan and, at the end of the training program, they went back to their countries with a firm conviction that the advancement of welfare for the Deaf can be achieved through Deaf rights movements conducted by the Deaf themselves. It is hoped that these trainees will make use of the opportunity given by their country and the opportunity that they themselves created, and use the knowledge and experience acquired in the training program for the realization of “full participation and equality” for the Deaf in each of their countries.
The “Leadership Training of Asian and Oceanian Deaf Persons” began in 1995. So far, 5 courses have been completed. Eight trainees come to Japan from all parts of Asia and Oceania each year to participate in the training program and by 1999, 39 trainees completed the course (1 trainee could not participate in 1996).
We are confident that this JICA training program is yielding far better results than anticipated. Friendly relations among the Asian Deaf are increasing in recent years and there are more and more occasions for visiting other countries as well as welcoming Deaf friends to our country. When we visit seminars and forums held in other countries, we often find those who completed the training program holding important positions and playing important roles.
Reflecting back on the past, the receiving of JICA trainees was not without hardships. We had a firm conviction that the leadership training of the Deaf should be undertaken by an organization of the Deaf and that the training program should be experienced by the Deaf themselves. However, it was very hard to convince the third party on this point.
According to JICA’s manual, the purpose of the Leadership Training of Asian and Oceanian Deaf Persons is “to invite Deaf people from developing Asian countries in order to transfer to these countries the knowledge and information on social welfare and rehabilitation which our country acquired over the years. By training the leaders of Deaf organizations, the aim is to support the Deaf in each country in their efforts to achieve self-reliance and social participation.”
Before this program, the training for disabled persons was based on the concept of protecting the disabled. There were very few programs considering the disabled as direct beneficiaries of such training. Most of the programs were for specialists on education or rehabilitation, and the organizations in charge of the training were specialized institutions to train such people. I think it was probably the first time that JICA worked on a program for the disabled conducted by an organization of disabled persons. JFD received cooperation from the Japanese Society for Rehabilitation of Persons With Disabilities (JSRPD) and other organizations and individuals. Such cooperation and JFD’s repeated efforts and appeals finally won the understanding and approval of the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which moved JICA to entrust the training program to JFD.
The project was a new experience for both JFD and JICA in many respects. However, JICA’s staff members’ frank recognition of their lack of knowledge on the Deaf and issues concerning disabled persons, and their willingness to comply readily to our opinions and requests was a big factor behind the success of the program. We are not always that lucky. Those who do not have much knowledge on the Deaf or Sign Language, often tend to impose their opinions and decisions upon us.
In order to receive trainees from many different countries over a period of nearly 2 months, JFD had to mobilize all its manpower resources. This, of course, did restrict our domestic activities, but we were fortunate to receive understanding from our member associations. JFD functioned as the secretariat, and with all-out support from local Deaf associations, information centers for the Deaf, the National Study Association for Sign Language Interpretation, and Sign Language study groups (“Sign Language Circles”) across the country, we were able to execute an effective training program.
The effectiveness of the training program differed depending on the trainee. The trainees who participate in this program are chosen according to certain other standards besides the fact that they are people with hearing impairments. First, because the training program is an inter-governmental project, the participating trainees are chosen by their own governments. Second, although textbooks and written material are in English, the lectures, conversations, and communications are conducted totally in Sign Language (which ideally should be in International Sign, but is actually a mixture of Japanese Sign Language, International Sign, and the trainees’ native Sign Languages). Therefore, it is not an overstatement to say that the trainees’ performance depends on his sign Language experience. The highest performance can be seen in the case of trainees who are frequently exposed to the Deaf community, who have substantial experience in organizational activities of the Deaf, and who are recommended by the Deaf organization. We can obtain the best results if the government’s choice coincides with such candidates recommended by the Deaf organization. Therefore, it is important for the Deaf organizations in each country to work together closely with the government. Sometimes we receive trainees who were probably chosen because of connections with prestigious people or governmental officials. Even if they are very intelligent and gave a good command of the English language, their Sign Language skills are often poor. They cannot understand the lectures, observation tours, and meetings with the local Deaf. After returning to their countries, they fail to make use of their training. In countries where the Deaf organizations have a healthy relationship with their governments, such as Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Nepal, Hong Kong, and China (although the relationship is slightly different in nature in the case of China), we find the results of the training program to be most fruitful.
As a governmental organization, JICA undertakes numerous different international cooperation projects and receives numerous foreign trainees. However, the “Leadership Training” program is probably the only project in which the beneficiaries of the training program are disabled persons and the only one in which the institution offering the training program is an organization of the disabled themselves.
2. International Organizations of the Deaf and Their Policies
The Japanese Federation of the Deaf is the sole nationwide organization of the Deaf in Japan. It is characterized by the use of Sign Language as the primary means of communication. In Japan, we have another nationwide organization of people with hearing disabilities called the All Japan Association of Hard of Hearing People. However, this organization uses spoken Japanese as the means of communication. This is the biggest difference between this organization and our JFD.
The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), with its headquarters in Sweden, is an international organization of the Deaf. Basically, membership is restricted to one association of the Deaf from each country. At present, 120 countries are enrolled as WFD members, which is 60% of the 190 U.N. member countries. All WFD member associations use Sign Language, not spoken language, as the means of communication, although the Sign Language used differs from country to country. The use of the Sign Language is a binding force uniting the Deaf associations of the world with a strong sense of solidarity. This solidarity is far stronger than that found in other international organizations of the disabled. Comparing the rate of membership of international organizations of the disabled, the World Blind Union (headquarters in Sweden) is the largest with 145 member countries, WFD is the second largest, and the Disabled Persons International (headquarters in Canada) is the third largest with 50 member countries.
WFD is subdivided into regions, each with a regional secretariat. The WFD Regional Secretariat in Asia/Pacific has 19 member countries. A member of our JFD serves as its Director and the secretariat office is in Japan.
The “WFD Policy for the Work Done by Member Organizations in Developing Countries” sets forth the guidelines by which member associations give international support and aid. To introduce a few of the basic policies: Article 1 states that “the initiative to the cooperation has to come from the recipient country, and not from the donor.” Article 2 states that “the member organization in the donor country should ensure that no commercial interests (for instance agreements with hearing aid companies) will influence the project. The project ought to be run by deaf people themselves – and in accordance with the organization’s objectives and ethics. However it is advisable to note that almost always a funding agency will be involved, whose regulations both partners are submitted to. In this case it is important to point out these conditions for the recipient partner from the very beginning of the cooperation.” Article 10 states that “One should always strive to achieve sustainability in the project. The objective must always be for the partner in the recipient country to become independent of the donor. At all costs it must be avoided that it becomes a permanent condition that the deaf association from the recipient country becomes dependent on the support from a deaf association in the donor country. As early in the cooperation as possible specific deadlines for decline of the support should be agreed upon.”
3. Problems Concerning the Organization of the Deaf in Recipient Countries
Besides the aforementioned “Leadership Training of Asian and Oceanian Deaf Persons”, JFD, supported by its member associations, offers continuous cooperation to Deaf associations of countries belonging to the WFD Regional Secretariat in Asia/Pacific. JFD utilizes the funds provided by supporting organizations and the “Asian Deaf Friendship Fund”. At present, cooperation is offered only to Thailand, Nepal, and other member countries (excluding non-recipient countries like China and Korea) having a relatively stable Deaf organization. This is because we have restricted the target of our support to organizations with which we can communicate smoothly and with which we have established, or can establish, a relationship of mutual trust.
For example, upon request from the Indonesian Deaf Association, JFD received donations in cash from a certain company, on condition that facsimile machines will be purchased from that company, and sent the cash to the Indonesian Deaf Association. However, in spite of our repeated requests, the Indonesian Deaf Association would not provide us with receipts, photographs, or other documents proving that the purchase was made. Because of this breach of promise, we could not act in accordance with the good intentions of the company and decided to cut off the cooperation to this association. We also received a request from the Philippine Deaf Association for cooperation to establish and maintain an office for the Association. We tried to contact the Philippine Deaf Association to consider concrete details of their plan, but as we could not keep up the communication, we had to give up this project, too.
Such examples show that it is not easy to establish an organization of the Deaf, capable of executing its operations and having a stable, lasting organization management structure. The lack of such an organization, however, does not detract from the solidarity of the Deaf associations in the Asia/Pacific region. We will continue to call on all member countries to participate in the annual Representatives Meeting of the WFD Regional Secretariat in Asia/Pacific. If we are able to get together with the representatives from these countries at this meeting, we can discuss their present situation and possibilities for future cooperation.
The situation in these developing countries resembles JFD’s situation about 30 years ago. I recall the days when we did not have a permanent office or full-time employees, and when internal problems related to the management of the organization hindered the smooth and continuous execution of our functions.
The 8th WFD Regional Secretariat in Asia/Pacific Representatives Meeting was held in 1999. JFD places importance on this regional meeting as a good opportunity to develop inter-agency communication among the countries of the Asian Pacific. This meeting first convened in 1985 in Japan. Several years later, it was resolved to hold the meeting regularly once a year, hosted in turn by one of the member countries. Participating associations are continuing to increase in number. This Representatives Meeting is significant in that it is not simply a meeting of the representatives of the member associations, but is normally held in collaboration with the Deaf society of the host country. This is contributing to the development of Deaf movements in the host country. Every year, JFD sends a maximum of 1 million JPY to the host country from the “Asian Deaf Friendship Fund” to support its organizational activities. JFD feels that this WFD RSA/P Representatives Meeting is a manifestation of the fact that the Deaf associations in the Asian Pacific region are alive and active.
4. Cooperation to the National Association of the Deaf in Thailand
International cooperation activities can be implemented relatively smoothly if the Deaf people in the recipient country have a fairly developed organization. A representative example is the case of the National Association of the Deaf in Thailand (NADT).
I think there are 3 reasons why NADT’s organization and activities are relatively advanced. One is the assistance provided by the Swedish Organization of Disabled International Aid Association (SHIA) to maintain and manage the NADT office. As a rule, SHIA’s international support is offered to organizations of the disabled in other countries for the purpose of strengthening ties between that organization and the corresponding organization of the disabled in Sweden, and is executed with advice and cooperation from this corresponding Swedish organization. Consequently, the Swedish Association of the Deaf has established an extremely friendly relationship with NADT. The second reason is governmental support. The Thai government recognized NADT as an established organization and entrusts NADT with such operations as job placement, etc. The good relationship between NADT and the government enables NADT to choose the most qualified persons to participate in the “Leadership Training of Asian Oceanian Deaf Persons” and have this choice approved by the Thai government. Today, the key persons involved in the management and maintenance of NADT are those who participated in the Leadership Training program. The third reason is the fact that NADT’s management is very democratic. Elections to decide the directors are held regularly and in the manner specified in the Association’s constitution, and the change of directors is conducted smoothly.
For the unification of the Deaf in a country, the dissemination of a standard Sign Language is of utmost importance. Formerly, in our country, too, each district has its Sign Language dialect. Unfortunately, Deaf education considered the existence of such dialects as a defect in the Sign Language system and stressed this view in its anti-Sign Language campaign. However, beginning with the publication of Volume 1 of the standard Japanese Sign Language (JSL) vocabulary textbook, “Watashitachi no Shuwa” (Our Sign Language), in 1969, JFD has been publishing one such vocabulary textbook after the other to total over 10 volumes in all. Thanks to the publication of these standard JSL textbooks and efforts by Sign Language study groups (called Sign Language “Circles”) to disseminate the standard JSL among the Deaf and the hearing as well, we were finally able to implement a nationwide uniform Sign Language. The existence of Sign Language dialects, and difficulties involving the implementation of a national standard Sign Language are all the more evident in the case of Thailand, because the country is 1.5 times larger than Japan, and the traffic and transportation systems are insufficient.
Gallaudet University of the United States (the only university in the world for the Deaf, accepting Deaf students from all over the world, and using Sign Language as the official language) has been sending research workers to Thailand to conduct studies on the Thai Sign language. The results of these studies led to the publication of the “Thai Sign Language Dictionary” (Volumes 1 and 2) in 1990. This was a great achievement, but the as the dictionary was extremely costly and not suited to practical use as a textbook for Sign Language learners, it failed to diffuse among the Deaf or the hearing. NADT decided to ask for JFD’s support and assistance to publish an NADT version of “Watashitachi no Shuwa”. To fund the project, JFD requested the application of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications’ “Law on Commissioning of Donations from Interest on Post Office Savings Accounts to Overseas Assistance Project” (The Postal Savings for International Voluntary Aid). JFD offered to provide technical support if it could receive funds amounting to about 4 million JPY for this 2-year project. This was how the publication project of the NADT version of “Watashitachi no Shuwa” began, and in September 1999, the much-awaited books (volumes 1 and 2) were published. 10,000 copies of each volume were printed. Results were reported to the Thai Ministry of Education and samples of the new books were presented. The ceremony to present the report and books was attended by the Vice Minister of Education, who expressed his appreciation for NADT’s endeavors and JFD’s cooperation. He promised to try and have the new books used as textbooks in Deaf schools. From later reports we learned that the promise has been fulfilled.
The editing process was not easy. Although there was a former Thai Sign Language dictionary, the selection of Signs and approval by the local districts necessitated editorial meetings with a nationwide representation. We also had to develop a computer system for the selection and deciding of the Signs to be included in the textbook. The Postal Savings for International Aid secretariat has very strict administrative regulations. The inexperienced NADT secretariat had to work consecutively for days and nights to prepare a settlement of accounts, and JFD spent long hours helping them.
This joint project was a new experience not only for the Deaf people of Thailand, but for JFD and NADT as well. Results were extremely fruitful in that the project involved not only material support, but also created strong human ties. The free distribution of volumes 1 and 2 to the Deaf throughout Thailand and the holding of seminars for promulgation have been finished, and now, NADT is working on the editing of volumes 3 and 4. After the distribution of 1 million copies of volumes 1 and 2 was over, copyrights and publishing rights were handed over to NADT in the hope that they will be a source of income for NADT.
5. Cooperation Toward Schools for the Deaf
In compliance to numerous requests from many member countries of WFD Regional Secretariat in Asia/Pacific, JFD provides funds for scholarships for students in schools for the Deaf through its “Asia Deaf Friendship Fund”. At present, 1,100,000 JPY is provided annually as scholarships and management fees for 20 students attending the Nonthaburi School for the Deaf (Bangkok) and Chiang Mai School for the Deaf (Chiang Mai). The scholarship will be provided for the entire period that the students are enrolled in the Deaf schools (up to junior high school).
The scholarships are given to schools for the Deaf schools which recognize the use of Sign Language and which maintain good relationships with NADT. The selection of the scholarship recipients and the management of the funds are entrusted jointly to NADT and the Deaf school. At present, JFD is considering the possibility of sending similar aid to the Philippines and Mongol, but is not able to start up the project because of communication difficulties with the Deaf associations of these countries.
JFD supported the enlarging of the classroom facilities of the Deaf school in Nepal. The 10th Representatives Meeting of the WFD Regional Secretariat in Asia/Pacific, held in 1998 in Katmandu, was attended by 12 associations of member countries. The Nepal Federation of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (NFDH), which is a member of the WFD RSA/P, called on all its members and members of related institutions such as the Sign Language study groups, and worked hard to make the meeting successful. The drama performance, held to welcome the participants, was attended by over 1,000 people and continued until late at night. The Parents’ Association was especially busy, working backstage as the secretariat, as Sign Language interpreters, and English interpreters. I recall that in a casual meeting after the conference, one Nepal leader of the Parents’ Association commented, “I realize that the dependence on the parents must be a transitional measure. If NFDH becomes gains self-reliance, the role of the parents will come to an end. We have to work hard so that the day when we will no longer be needed will be realized as soon as possible.”
At this WFD RSA/P Representatives Meeting in Nepal, I met Ms. Yasuko Terai who was working as a JICA cooperation volunteer at Purwanchal School for the Deaf. She herself had lost all hearing ability in one ear, but said, “I wanted to be of help where my experience and skills could be put to use.” She understood spoken Nepalese, but this was of little use in her relationship with the Deaf children. “I wanted them to know how I felt,” said Ms. Terai. She learned the Nepalese Sign Language from the children and teachers, and from the third day in the classroom, she started using the Sign Language to teach. She became friends with the local Deaf people, and this was how she came to participate in the meeting. At this meeting, NFDH requested for support to expand the facilities of the Purwanchal School for the Deaf. The Japanese representatives reported this fact to JFD. JFD contacted NFDH and JICA, and decided to send about 650,000 JPY to aid the project. The expansion of the school facilities was completed in 1999 and JFD received a letter of thanks from the school. Ms. Yasuko Terai later returned to Japan, and at present, she is working as a teacher at the Shiroshita Elementary School in Hachinohe City, Aomori Prefecture.
Since this project, JFD has had a strong interest in Nepal and would like to cooperate with NFDH. However, NFDH has 2 problems. First, there is the communication problem. Almost all our international communications are carried out via e-mail. However, even if we e-mail the NFDH office, we can not contact them. Another problem is the fact that NFDH does not have independent organizations for the Deaf and for the Hard of Hearing but deals with both issues together. This is making the government take a vague attitude toward both issues, and as a result, is hindering NFDH from advancing ahead. I think the reason behind these problems is the fact that Danish representative in charge of the support to Nepal disregarded the cooperation process which had been built up by Sweden and Finland and conducted their support program arbitrarily without consulting others.
Among the Japanese people involved in Deaf education, there are some who export “aid” to Asian schools for the Deaf in the form of second-hand hearing aids packaged up with an education system based on the auditory oral method. It is my opinion that the educational effect of this type of education is in direct proportion to the residual hearing level of the student. To raise the educational level as a whole, those lacking the ability to keep up with the system will have to be cut off. However, there are no measures to save those who have been cut off. This is, in effect, a screening process and the Deaf are most often screened out. Unless there is a good understanding of the situation in Japan, of the overall situation of the welfare of the Deaf throughout the world, and the situation of the Deaf adults in the country receiving the aid, we cannot avoid criticism.
In sending international support, we have to keep in mind, also, that cooperation projects from a number of different countries are often closely inter-related. The important thing is to ensure that the project can be sustained and that it matches the needs of the Deaf people of the country. As such support is not always provided continuously, it is also important to recognize the general situation and ensure that those who succeed us can pick up where we left off for an effective and organic continuation of the project.
6. Problems Which Still Remain
JFD’s international cooperation activities are basically targeted on Asian Deaf organizations. There are countries to which we would like to send aid, but which cannot meet the conditions for receiving support, such as the 3 Indo-Chinese countries of Viet Nam, Cambodia, and Laos, and the neighboring Myanmar. These are not simply neighboring Asian countries, but countries with which the Japanese Deaf people have been involved in many ways.
During World War II, Myanmar, which used to be called Burma, became a battlefield for many fierce attacks and many Deaf people lost their families and relations there. The Deaf people of Japan also have a strong interest in Vietnam. The Vietnamese fought against France and later against the powerful U.S. to save the county’s pride, and was victorious. This courage of the Vietnamese people resembles the fight to save the pride of the Deaf people in the movement against oral or auditory oral methods employed in Deaf education. (This was not simply a matter involving technical problems, but was an impudent infringement of Deaf rights.)
Why, then, doesn’t JFD send aid to Vietnam? It is because Vietnam does not have a nationwide unified organization of the Deaf.
In October 1996, ESCAP (the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific) and the Vietnamese Government (Ministry of Labour Invalids and Social Affairs, MOLISA) cosponsored the “Workshop on Promotion of Self-Help Initiatives of People With Disabilities” in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. As the director of WFD RSA/P, I was invited to this Workshop to represent ESCAP and to give a keynote speech. Other participants were the secretariat of ESCAP, the representatives of international NGOs, representatives of various organizations of the disabled from neighboring Thailand, and from the Vietnamese government, the Minister of MOLISA, the vice minister, the directors of numerous different divisions, and about 100 people from the private sector, including 10 blind representatives, 10 Deaf representatives, and 10 physically handicapped representative.
The 10 Deaf representatives of Vietnam were all very young and looked like students from schools for the Deaf, or those just out of school. They were escorted by teachers from schools for the Deaf, who also acted as Sign Language interpreters. The young representatives seemingly did not have a good command of the Sign Language or finger spelling and, when making comments, kept reading the faces of the escorting teachers. The teachers also depended largely on finger spelling and oral expressions and were not skilled interpreters. The Deaf people seemed to have a hard time trying to understand what was being said. In my speech, I stressed the need for an independent and autonomous organization. At the time, the only nationwide organization of disabled persons recognized in Vietnam was the blind people’s association, and the Deaf did not have a nationwide organization.
After 5 days of discussions (including Deaf people of Thailand and Vietnam, or the Deaf of Vietnam alone), the Workshop resolved to “encourage the documentation and description of Vietnamese sign language(s), the development of reference materials related to Vietnamese sign language(s), (such) as dictionaries, grammatical handbooks, sign language instructional materials…”. In his closing address, the vice minister promised to translate the “Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities” into Vietnamese, to implement a new law concerning welfare for disabled persons in FY 1997 (the following year), and to establish a nationwide organization of the Deaf.
Unfortunately however, we have been sending repeated requests to the Vietnamese government to send participants to the JICA training program, but so far, as of the year 2000, we have not once received a response from the Vietnamese Government, nor have we heard news of the establishment of a Deaf association in Vietnam.
However, in December 1999, at the RNN General Assembly held during the Campaign ’99 for the Asian and Pacific Decade of Disabled Persons in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, it was decided that the campaign will be held in Thailand in 2001 and in Vietnam in 2002. (The countries of the Asia/Pacific region take turns to host a campaign held once every year during the A/P Decade of Disabled Persons.) In the address to accept the decision, the Vietnamese delegate reported that a new law on the welfare of the disabled is planned for implementation during the fiscal year. The Vietnamese Government seemed ready to host the meeting, too. We look forward to seeing the realization of the Vietnamese Federation of the Deaf at the meeting.
Actually, the Deaf people of Vietnam have local organizations of their own, and there is no reason why they cannot form a nationwide federation of the Deaf, except for the fact that they cannot receive approval from the government. We receive many reports of the natural formation of Deaf group activities in such cities as Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, and Haiphong.
After the Workshop in 1996, we invited the inexperienced young Deaf from Vietnam and the Deaf people of Thailand to dinner at a restaurant (perhaps it was too casual to be called a restaurant). On a different night, we also invited a group of young Deaf women we met in town to dine with us. It was amazing how these Deaf youngsters from Vietnam started to open up their hearts and started talking and talking in fluent Sign Language. We even forgot how late it was getting. We learned so much about the Deaf in Vietnam from these casual gatherings! The Deaf can communicate and make friends as long as we have the Sign Language. I felt certain that the Deaf in Vietnam have the power to form groups, and to build these into a nationwide organization if only the government would give approval. It is our firm belief that it would not be long before we can join hands with the Vietnamese Federation of the Deaf.