IN THE NEWS / Award-winning mom eyes independence for disabled

Masanao Umezaki / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

A Kobe woman who heads a grassroots organization that helps people with disabilities find work and gain the ability to support themselves was recently honored by the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo for her efforts.

Nami Takenaka received the "2009 Woman of Courage Award, Japan" from the embassy for her work with Prop Station on March 8--International Women's Day.

Prop Station uses information technology to open doors for what it calls the "challenged" to make the most of their talents.

A delighted Takenaka said on receiving the award,"I represent everyone who has given their support."

When she was in her 20s, she gave birth to her eldest daughter, who had serious mental and physical disorders. This prompted Takenaka to teach herself about caring and welfare for children with disabilities.

"I was a bit of a delinquent and it was my daughter that made me into a mom," Takenaka says.

Takenaka says that rather than "helping the weak," she aims to create a system in which the physically or mentally disabled can demonstrate their talents and turn their lives round so they too can help support society.

Prop Station was founded in Kobe in 1991, and has developed from its Kansai region roots to become a national organization.

Takenaka, 60, holds a variety of positions and is a committee member on a government advisory council.

Her cheerful character and vitality have earned her the nickname "Namine," an affectionate term implying she is a big sister figure.

With the help of a top pastry chef in Kobe, she held confectionary-making classes in the city last year, and plans to hold similar classes in Tokyo later this year.

She has enlisted the assistance of a flour miller, but says: "All I can do is bring people together. I'll work hard as the dough between them."

(Mar. 26, 2009)