We often take our clear vision for granted and fail to appreciate the beauty of creation and life. Yet, there are 150,000 citizens in Sri Lanka who are totally blind and another 400,000 who have various levels of vision impairment. As we all know, being differently abled and having a physical disability is a major setback to everyday life in Sri Lanka. Sadly, we as a nation have not focused on incorporating such folk into our lifestyle, although good work is being done by many organizations at various levels.
I visited such a wonderful place at Dharmapala Mawatha in Colombo which is spearheaded by two brilliant Japanese gentlemen. The founder is a young man Ishikawa Naohita, who first visited our country as a JICA volunteer. A graduate in Agriculture and subsequently in disaster management Ishikawa soon developed a love for our people having lived here for 14 years.
He speaks fluent Sinhalese. Realizing the lifestyle of the underprivileged in comparison to developed Japan he wanted to help the most deserving. While meeting people in the aftermath of the destructive Tsunami - and later the landslide, he met a blind person. This solitary encounter would change his perception of life forever. As Helen Keller once said ‘The worst thing than being blind is to have sight but no vision”. The young Japanese would make his vision into a reality.
Therapeutic massage course
Since that day, Ishikawa who works for APCAS, was keen to set up a project that would teach these visually impaired people an income generating skill, that would enable them to live with dignity. This is when he turned to ancient Japanese acupressure treatment as a program for the blind.
Dynamic Ishikawa soon coordinated with officers from the Department of Social Services. The latter institute already had a therapeutic massage course. Ishikawa also made contact with world famous Dr. Sasada Saduro, who is himself totally blind. He holds a PhD in alternative medicine. The two men set up Thusare Talking Hands in 2012. The word ‘Thusare’ in Japanese means healing, from the dialect of the clan of the Ainu people. Today, the acupressure massage centre has 11 blind male staff. I visited Ishikawa and his team.
As I look into his face and hear his calm and soft voice I am reminded of a Shaolin monk I acquainted in America some years ago (Shaolin is an order of Japanese monks who introduced Kung-Fu). Dr. Sasada tells me he was the youngest of 7 children in Japan. Being blind he was a shy and awkward youth. He recalls learning acupressure and then moving on in life.
Today, he has travelled the globe setting up training schools for the blind in Malaysia and India. He says “Our main aim at Thusare Talking Hands is to improve the lifestyle and dignity of our staff. They can earn an income and take care of their family. They don’t have to be considered a burden to anyone”. This grandfather like sage says he practices walking meditation and talks of the importance of breathing. He gently laughs and says, he enjoys our tropical fruits for breakfast, papaya being his favourite.
Ishikawa shows me two staff, Sanjeewa (from Colombo) and Kethish (who is from Batticaloa). These two men after being patiently trained and employed at ThusareTalking Hands have got married and are the proud fathers of kids with perfect vision. There could be no greater joy in their life than this. It is an endorsement to the good work done by Ishikawa and Sensei Sasada.
I met another staff Ragu, who is blind from an explosion in Jaffna, he is happy to be in Colombo. Ishikawa says ‘We offer free training to our staff, with food and accommodation. We keep them at our hostel at Kirulapone. Our primary aim is to give them hope for the future. They earn 30,000 rupees a month. We want to train more blind men and women’. Amiable Dr. Sasada also points out “There are not many avenues in your country for the blind to learn a trade and be accepted into society. In Japan, after the Second World War, the government trained the war blind for 3 – 6 months on Shiatsu massage (Shiatsu means finger pressure) methods and gave them an avenue of revenue. We are now willing to train your young blind soldiers from the army, if they wish”.
Talking Hands also visits some corporate offices and provides therapy to the staff. John Keells, WSO2 and Expo Lanka Freight are few companies that support us by using our staff, says Ishikawa and is grateful to them. I also met another blind Indian instructor, Amit from Delhi-Gaya who has been trained by Dr. Sasada in India and been in the island for more than a year. At Thusare Talking Hands all acupressure treatment is done with the clients clothes on, thereby creating a safe and comfortable atmosphere. Sensei Sasada asks me if he can touch my head.
Mildly surprised I obliged and he gently exerted some techniques to my head and shoulder using his firm hands. Indeed a sense of rejuvenation takes shape. Thus, Ishikawa and his team have put into practice the advice of Helen Keller who also said ‘Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much”.
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