August 31, 2020
JICA HQ, Tokyo, Japan
(1) Welcoming JICA scholarship program participants as part of the JICA family
Many of you arrived in Japan during the autumn of 2019. I would like to once again welcome you and reiterate my gratitude for choosing Japan as your study abroad destination. Please take this as another warm welcome to our JICA family. This means that I consider you as members of JICA family.
In March of this year, we were hoping to host a Joint Program where I would have had the opportunity to meet everyone in person. I was looking forward to this, but unfortunately it was postponed because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Given the situation, we are hosting this program virtually. While it may not be quite the same, I am still very happy to meet you online.
I would like to emphasize the significance of studying abroad at a young age based on my personal experience as well as Japan's own experience.
I spent two years at Princeton University in the United States as a visiting fellow in my early 30's. That was a wonderful and fruitful experience. Without that experience, my working in the areas of international cooperation and diplomacy would not have gone good.
Regarding Japan's own experience, let me lead you to the very important event that took place in 1871, around 150 years ago. Japan organized a diplomatic mission of prominent politicians and scholars to the United States and European countries. They stay abroad for more than one year and 9 months. It is known as the "Iwakura Mission." The Mission contributed to adapting the knowledge and ideas to build the foundations of a free and democratic Japan, while also ensuring to preserve Japan's traditions.
One of the keystones of this mission is that they brought many young boys and girls to study abroad. One of them was a very young girl, a seven-year-old girl, named TSUDA Umeko, the first Japanese female to study abroad. She learned and then went to be accepted at Bryn Mawr College, which is still a very famous college today. After graduating, she came back to Japan and became the pioneer for women's education, establishing the first English Language School for Women, it is now still very famous as the name of Tsuda University.
Similarly, another young boy who was brought to the United States in this mission was KANEKO Kentaro, who later studied in Harvard University. At Harvard, he came to know future President Theodore Roosevelt. Many years later, when Japan went to a war with Russia, KANEKO Kentaro went to the United States and tried to meet with then President Theodore Roosevelt. Through their friendship, Theodore Roosevelt decided to intervene into the war between Japan and Russia. He successfully made a good peace, and later became the first US President to win the Novel Peace Prize. It is one of the examples of how useful studying abroad is.
It might be coincidental, but studying abroad, particularly in different civilization, is a very important experience for you. I am sure that you can make your career even more successful.
I want all of you to study hard in Japan for the future of your career as well as your own country.
(2) Acknowledging the anxiety caused by COVID-19
Given that COVID-19 has not yet subsided, I fully recognize that you may be worried not only about your own health, but also the health of your family, colleagues, and friends.
Although these unsettling times will likely continue, JICA remains committed to doing everything we can to help protect your health and wellbeing. While I am sure you are already closely in contact with your university and with JICA staff, please do not hesitate to contact any of us, including myself, if you have any concerns.
(3) JICA is taking bold initiatives in a COVID-altered world in collaboration with various partners
Today, I would like to highlight some ways we are taking bold initiatives to respond to COVID-19, in partnership with developing countries.
This virus will undoubtedly change our society in many ways. In an effort to Build Back Better, JICA is committed more than ever to achieving Human Security, which protects and values human dignity.
As part of our efforts, JICA is going to launch a new initiative for global health and medicine. This initiative aims to establish resilient health systems, in 100 countries, roughly speaking, to enable everyone to access reliable health and medical services.
This is based on Japan's own experience. Japan's first experience of this kind goes back to 1890s. GOTO Shimpei, one of the high ranking government officials, who was also a doctor, built a hospital in Taipei, Taiwan, which was governed by Japan at the time. It was a great success. He did so also in Manchuria. JICA established a big hospital in Beijing in 1984, which is still working. Last year, I made a visit to a hospital supported by JICA in Jakarta, Indonesia. And also last year we just completed a big hospital in Mongolia.
In our plan, functional hospitals should be at the core of such system. I do hope these hospitals would connect to hospitals in Japan through remote medical systems so that they could leverage Japan's knowledge and experiences. JICA will work with partner countries to materialize this plan, by utilizing all of its development modalities, including the JICA Development Studies Program to enhance skills development.
Furthermore, I believe that innovative initiatives, including partnerships with all of you, regardless of your specialization, and collaborations across countries, are vital.
In this context, I would like to share one of the examples of former JICA scholars, who are now taking bold initiatives to accelerate research and development activities to combat COVID-19.
Across Africa, the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) has been credited for quickly responding to COVID-19. Former JICA scholars have greatly contributed to this achievement.
Professor Bernard Ikua, who received his doctorate degree from Tottori University, serves as Vice President of the University and currently spearheads its ventilator development team. JKUAT has successfully developed artificial ventilators, disinfectants, contact tracing apps and a web-based infectious disease forecasting system.
In addition to Professor Ikua, the ventilator development team also includes Mr. Boniface Kariuki, a former ABE Initiative alumnus who attained his master's degree from Hokkaido University and Mr. Daniel Omondi who completed a short-term JICA training program at Tottori University.
These individuals have faced numerous challenges in developing their first medical device, given entry restrictions posed on the university due to COVID-19. Despite these challenges, they have said, "The most difficult thing for us is not being able to obtain new electronic parts due to the outbreak. Instead, we take old car parts to practice using them to make components for ventilators." Taking advantage of what is available, these individuals have worked tirelessly to use their ingenuity and creativity to develop life-saving tools.
As we continue to undergo this unprecedented situation, I urge all of you to envision what we can achieve together during this turbulent time. I look forward to join forces with you, as we overcome this crisis.
I always remind our staff that we must take crises and turn them into opportunities. I likewise hope that this crisis will translate into a new opportunity for you.
JICA, with its vision of leading the world with trust, strongly believes that this bond is most needed at this unprecedented time.
I believe that you are the link between your home countries and Japan, as well as the bridge to our future.
In this sense, I hope that you will continue to be a part of the JICA family and play an active role in collaborating with us, even after you return to your home countries.