December 3, 2018
Kentaro Fukuchi, JICA staff menber
"If I had wanted to focus only on issues of disability in development, I could have chosen to work with NGOs that specialize in that field. But I chose to work with JICA. I wanted to work with colleagues in developing countries to build their countries, creating a society where no one, including people with disabilities, is left behind," says JICA staff member Kentaro Fukuchi, who is blind. "I’m happy to be at JICA where I’m given work responsibilities just like anyone else." He feels a sense of satisfaction in his work which promotes the empowerment of persons with disabilities and an enabling environment for them*.
Mr. Fukuchi began to work at JICA Hokkaido in 2013 after a period of working at different international aid organizations. His role was in the training section of the agency, where he was in charge of conducting the acceptance of participants for JICA’s Knowledge Co-Creation Program (KCCP) and international students in various fields.
Mr. Fukuchi and participants from Latin America at Yuyu in Tobetsu, Hokkaido
One notable initiative that Mr. Fukuchi has worked on is the creation of a new KCCP , done in collaboration with Yuyu, an NPO in Tobetsu, Hokkaido, which he encountered by research on local initiatives to find resources for cooperation for JICA. In Tobetsu, population 18,000, Yuyu supports persons with disabilities, older people, children, and other residents, addressing their needs and strengths while revitalizing the community. Yuyu calls this approach "gochamaze fukushi", which literally means mixed-up welfare.
When Mr. Fukuchi’s team suggested that a KCCP be begun for young Thai leaders, using Yuyu’s work as an advanced example of community-based inclusive development, Yuyu responded, "This sounds interesting. But would our practice be a workable example for the rest of the world?" Mr. Fukuchi and the rest of the team at JICA Hokkaido, they provided organizational support to Yuyu, working together to conduct the program together. Yuyu has become well known in Thailand as a result of the media coverage of the program and has become a destination for observers from Bangkok. Yuyu also takes on interested parties from Latin America for the JICA KCCP.
Peer counseling training in Uzbekistan
Mr. Fukuchi went to Uzbekistan with disability advocates from Hokkaido to conduct training on peer counseling with women with disabilities as a follow-up for a program for leaders with disabilities in Central Asia. Peer counseling is a type of co-counseling, in this instance targeted at those who share the experience of disability and related oppression. The participants shared their stories and expressed their emotions to re-evaluate themselves and regain their self-esteem. This workshop, co-implemented by Japanese and Uzbek partners, targeted at women with disabilities, who are doubly disadvantaged as women and as persons with disabilities, received added attention in Uzbekistan, as it coincided with International Women’s Day.
Mr. Fukuchi also gave a lecture on inclusive education for a KCCP on teachers’ education that he was administering. "I saw how our work allowed local community practices reach the world. Our small action provokes a chain reaction. I feel that this is really rewarding," Mr. Fukuchi reflects.
In April 2018, Mr. Fukuchi began work at the Human Development Department Social Security Team, JICA Headquarters. He became responsible for supporting each domestic center, organizing the KCCP, and administering projects in South Africa and Jordan, that are promoting empowerment and inclusion of persons with disabilities. He also began to coordinate skills development training on disability and development.
To check the current status of the project and coordinate with the stakeholders, Mr. Fukuchi took a business trip to South Africa for about two weeks, beginning in late October.
Staff of the Ministry of Social Development in South Africa and Mr. Fukuchi speaking with leaders with disabilities
This was the fifth country he had visited on a JICA business trip. "Without any fuss beyond asking me if I was OK with it, they just said, ‘Well Mr. Fukuchi, would you go on this business trip?’ and I said, ‘Yes,’ and that was the end of it. I often hear stories from friends with disabilities about not being fully trusted to get on with their jobs, but here they trust me and let me get on with it."
One thing that surprised him about this trip was that he encountered many South African officials who had disabilities, including those in senior position, working in the Department of Social Development. "Sometimes, I found half of the participants in the conference were visually impaired." He also learned that the minister had issued instructions that the perspectives of people with disabilities should be highlighted for all programs implemented by the Department of Social Development, including such issues as HIV/AIDS, support for single mothers, and child support.
"Our cooperating partner had a range of specific plans for different initiatives. I feel strongly that we will be able to work together moving forward."
The major turning point that sparked Mr. Fukuchi’s thinking about international cooperation occurred when he was a high school student.
Essay by Mr. Fukuchi, written as a high schooler
The young Mr. Fukuchi participated in a workshop of a Japanese NGO with an ongoing initiative to create a library in a Thai slum, and he wrote an essay about his experience. At the briefing session, a person who had pursued higher education thanks the support of an NGO and had become a diplomat spoke of her personal experience. She explained that she had graduated from a prestigious university while working in her mother’s market stall in a slum, eventually becoming a diplomat to pursue her dream of helping children around the world reach an education. Mr. Fukuchi was moved by how educational support had changed life.
Mr. Fukuchi at a meeting in South Africa (second from the left); he understands reads documents and emails using reading software, so he often does not use his receiver while working
Mr. Fukuchi has a strong interest in the fields of disability and education, but his goals are not limited to these areas. "JICA’s strength is in its ability to support nation building with many ways. For example, I have accumulated experience in the field of infrastructure, and I would like to work overseas eventually. I want to build a world where nobody is left behind because of their impairment."
A KCCP participant from the country of Togo said this to Mr. Fukuchi: "I want to make a video of you working. There is a student with visual impairments in my class, but their parents tell them, ‘You won’t get a job even if you graduate.’ I want to tell them that isn’t the case." In addition to the very real, concrete results of Mr. Fukuchi’s work, the very fact that he is "working like everyone else" and his visibility can provoke a chain reaction that will change the world little by little.
* JICA is working on disability and development both as an initiative to bring disabilities into the mainstream and to pursue specialization in disability. Considering that disability does not define who a person is, JICA also promotes cooperation on human-rights issues, such as constraints to social participation and discrimination against or the exclusion of people with disabilities, working and to eliminate obstacles in these areas.