I had the honor and pleasure of meeting an incredible woman last week. I will do my best to convey her story.
Kazuko-san has a 45 year old son with Down Syndrome named, Koji. About 30 years ago, when Koji was in high school, Kazuko-san saw a desperate need to create a place for individuals with disabilities to go after graduating from high school. She knew her son needed to stay busy. She knew that stimulation and interaction with other people was important for her son's well-being and quality of life. But 30 years ago, facilities (like the workshops described in the previous post) were rare. So, Kazuko-san and a group of other mothers in her area started their own organization.
What she did was unprecedented at the time. Not only was it innovative for people to start their own organization of this kind, but for it to be done by a group of mothers in a patriarchal society was remarkable. Kazuko-san applied for numerous grants from both the city and national governments. Amazingly, she found the government to be supportive of her efforts and was awarded several grants. It took some time to obtain property, but finally she was able to secure a building from the city that wasn't being used at the time.
Kazuko-san shared that for many nights during a 6-month period she only slept 3 hours a night. She was traveling around a great deal during this time period as well, spending quite a fortune on taxi fees. To avoid this cost, Kazuko-san learned to ride a bike in her late 40's. She comically recalled that first she purchased a tricycle, but was encouraged to learn to ride a two-wheeled bike soon after.
Kazuko-san appeared on television and radio programs shortly after the organization was started. She was rightly recognized for her incredible drive and innovation. Today, the organization, known as Sakura no Sono or "Cherry Blossom Garden", is a thriving workshop for people with disabilities.
As I listened to the details of Kazuko-san's story slowly unfold with the help of my kind translator, I was in awe of her hard work and passion. She saw a need and did something about it! She brought together parents, government employees, and psychologists to complete this project and was fabulously successful. It was such a privilege to meet this amazing woman and I will cherish the memory of her beautiful smile and genuine laugh.
As we finished our conversation, Kazuko-san said that Koji and others like him are a gift from God. "They change our perspective on life forever. We are not surprised by other kinks in the road. We get strong and tough." Wise words from a woman who accomplished a great deal and continues to provide immensely for her son.