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March 19, 2007

NPO gives deaf chefs a hand

From: The Daily Yomiuri - Osaka,Japan - Mar 19, 2007

The Yomiuri Shimbun

A nonprofit organization in Kagoshima has opened a workshop for people with hearing impairments so that they can produce and sell steamed buns and crepes.

"We hope to explore the untapped ability of each worker," said Rie Sawada, head of Deaf Net Kagoshima. "We also hope our customers realize they can communicate with hearing impaired people."

Sawada, 38, who also is hearing impaired, attended a primary school for the deaf but studied at mainstream middle and high schools.

Her inspiration to open a workshop for the hearing impaired came eight years ago when she was reporting on mentally disabled people as a freelance writer.

At that time, she met a woman with mental and hearing disabilities who had become withdrawn after she encountered problems at another workshop in communicating with friends and staff who could not understand sign language.

"I decided then that I wanted to do something to help people like her," Sawada said.

Her dream finally took shape when the Budo no Ki (grape tree) workshop opened on March 1. The steamed buns and crepes were a sure recipe for success and an eye-opener for customers as well.

On the day Budo no Ki opened, a man and woman, both in their 20s, wrapped steamed buns at the workshop under the watchful eye of Sawada and her assistants.

Amid the excitement and bustle of steaming the buns for the customers that thronged the workshop, the woman, Mao Arikawa, could not contain her sense of satisfaction.

"My heart was pounding as I was greeted by one customer after another," Arikawa, 23, said using sign language. But she added with a grin, "I dropped a few buns."

Arikawa, who had dreamed of working in society for the past 2-1/2 years, said she would give part of her salary to her mother.

Sawada's four assistants--Junko Shizuka and her husband, Etsuro, and two of her former students--also have hearing disabilities of varying degrees.

Shizuka, 45, used to work with Sawada at an institute for the hearing impaired in Airacho, Kagoshima Prefecture, while her husband quit his job as a teacher to work for Budo no Ki.

"I'd been hoping to work with disabled people for many years," her 42-year-old husband said. "I'll teach them the virtue of taking responsibility for their work."

Among the visitors who came to the workshop on its opening day were Toshio Kawagiwa and his wife. Kawagiwa, 66, who runs a steamed bun shop in Kajiki, Kagoshima Prefecture, donated a bun maker and large refrigerator to Sawada to help the workshop get off the ground.

"It's a privilege to be able to lend a hand to people with hearing difficulties. I'll continue to support them," Kawagiwa said.

Orders for the buns, which are priced at 60 yen and 70 yen, and crepes, can be made by faxing the workshop at (099) 201-3193.

(Mar. 19, 2007)

© The Yomiuri Shimbun.