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Nami's Perspective

Illust by Junko Suzuki
Prop Station, a Nonprofit Social Welfare
Organization Supporting the Challenged.

Quoted from
IHT-The Asahi Shimbun
Saturday-Sunday, June 28-29,2003


Single-mom activist helps taxpayers out of challenged


By BOOYEON LEE, Special to The Asahi Shimbun


Nami Takenaka's Prop Station prepares those with disabilities for computer work.

Around the same time Nami Takenaka received a prestigious annual award from the telecommunications minister last year, the 54-year-old single mother got her first paycheck.

For 10 years, on a strictly volunteer basis, she oversaw a computer network system, training over 1,000 disabled people to find work in the information-technology field.

``Even people who can't change their own bedsheets or feed themselves can work, if they want to, using a computer or the Internet,'' said Takenaka, the director of Prop Station, an Osaka-based, registered nonprofit organization.

Until last year, when Prop Station became more or less financially stable, Takenaka was supported by her 30-year-old daughter Maki's monthly welfare checks. Maki was born with a severe developmental disorder that dramatically impeded her growth. Takenaka said that for Maki to reach the mental and physical maturity of an average 18-year-old, she would have to live 300 years.

In 1991, Takenaka, who was computer illiterate at the time, opened an IT workshop for the disabled with the help of a few volunteers. She was guided by one thought: ``When it's time for me to die, I want to go in peace, knowing I can leave my child in a society that values people like her.''

In such a society, Takenaka sees people with disabilities working, paying taxes and filling productive roles. Her slogan for Prop Station-``making taxpayers out of the challenged''-has recently received wide publicity in the media.

Takenaka's two books-``Rakki Uman'' (Lucky Woman), published by Asuka Shinsha in Japanese, and ``Let's Be Proud,'' published by The Japan Times in English-brim with success stories. A 39-year-old man paralyzed after suffering a broken neck in a car accident, who had no previous computer knowledge, becomes a contracted programmer for firms such as IBM Japan Ltd. and Nomura Research Institute Ltd. A 19-year-old woman battling spinal muscular atrophy, who spends her days braced to her wheelchair, is now a graphic artist, with an impressive array of clients, including Kansai Electric Power Co. and NTT Co.

Over the years, Takenaka's vision for Prop Station has won over policymakers and businesspeople around the country, making it possible for the organization to acquire an Internet domain and truckloads of computer equipment, and to host an annual international symposium, the Challenged Japan Forum, for the past seven years. In 1999, Takenaka won an Avon award for women in education.

An interview taped in February by Takenaka and former home affairs minister Seiko Noda with Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates will be shown at this year's Challenged Japan Forum on Aug. 21 and 22 at Makuhari Messe in Chiba Prefecture.

Takenaka's youthful laughter is contagious, and her no-nonsense attitude has even rubbed off on bureaucrats, who are notoriously sluggish when it comes to change. She currently serves on an advisory board for the prime minister.

``In every government, you've got people who get into public service for power and you've got people who choose that field because they want to be useful to Japan. Over the years, the latter group gets beaten down by the system, but at the core, they don't change,'' Takenaka said. ``So when someone like me comes along and presents them with an idea and says, `Look, here's how you can make a difference,' they are more than willing to hear you out.''

Takenaka's idea of social activism is not one of marching around with a picket sign and banging on the doors of the establishment.

``I just go around making friends with those who can open the door from the inside,'' she says.

In the world of policymakers, where there is a premium on elitism, Takenaka says the lack of a degree from a big-name university actually works in her favor.

``When people find out what school you graduated from, there's always a sense of competition. But if there is at least one person with no degree, then the conversation about schools stops and you can actually get some work done,'' says Takenaka, who was expelled from her Osaka junior high school after she moved in with her boyfriend at 15. The couple married a year later. But when Maki, her second child, was born eight years later, the couple's different opinions about how to raise the child caused a rift in the relationship, ending with a divorce in 1992.

``I was such a rebel growing up and as an adult, I had a daughter who did not fit in. So Maki and I had no rules, no precedents to go by. And that was very liberating. There was no one to tell me how to raise this child, because no one knew how. We made the rules ourselves.''

For the first 10 years of Maki's life, Takenaka averaged only two to three hours of sleep a night, taking care of her daughter who lacked basic motor control and often suffered seizures. After Maki began school, Takenaka plunged into the community of people dealing with physical and mental disabilities, immersing herself in volunteer activities such as sign-language translation. Now, she says, it's difficult to treat people with disabilities as out of the ordinary.

``There is so much my daughter can't do. But if you keep looking for something beautiful, something good about her, then you'll find plenty there,'' she said. ``Maki taught me to look at everyone like that and before you know it, people open up to you.''

With that philosophy on life, Takenaka has gained a devoted following. Some volunteers, known as ``Prop Station Freaks,'' come to help and never leave. The managing director, Shigeaki Suzuki, even quit a lucrative job to work for the organization for half his previous salary.

Some who visit Prop Station even confess they envy Takenaka, an idea that makes her laugh.

``But now I realize they are tired of living in the system. They look at me-someone with only a junior high school eduction, a single mom with a disabled child and no money-bringing people together and doing all sorts of fun things. Then they look at themselves and don't like what they see,'' she said.

``People are scared to step out of their roles, but once they do, they realize it's not that scary.''(IHT/Asahi: June 28,2003)


POINT OF VIEW / Nami Takenaka:
Look beyond old notions of welfare and labor new
Quoted from IHT-The Asahi Shimbun Wednesday, September 13-14, 2003
Regenerate society by including the challenged
Quoted from IHT-The Asahi Shimbun, Saturday- Sunday, September 13-14, 2003
Create a society supported by the challenged
Quoted from IHT-The Asahi Shimbun, Saturday- Sunday, July 19-20, 2003
Single-mom activist helps taxpayers out of challenged
Quoted from IHT-The Asahi Shimbun, Saturday- Sunday, June 28-29, 2003
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