Bonds With Japan’s Nippon Foundation – Working for Human Rights

President T. Alan Hurwitz received representatives of Japan’s Nippon Foundation at Gallaudet on Friday, June 18. The visit was a chance to thank a foundation that supports scholarships at the University and numerous programs that advocate for human rights and the interests of people with disabilities around the world, as well as to discuss the Gallaudet-Nippon partnership moving forward.

Dr. Hurwitz invited Yohei Sasakawa, the foundation chair, to Kendall Green to renew a longstanding friendship between the two leaders. The meeting was also a chance for recipients of some of Gallaudet’s most far-reaching scholarships for international students to express their gratitude to Sasakawa and the Nippon Foundation. “Scholarships like these are our most powerful service to our students from other countries,” said Hurwitz. Without them, he explained, some students–especially those from developing countries–would not be able to attend the University.

During the morning of meetings and a brunch, Dr. Hurwitz and Sasakawa took some time to discuss future collaborations.

Seven students from Japan, Lebanon, Nigeria, and Peru met with Sasakawa and the rest of the eight-member delegation at House One. They were joined by faculty mentors and representatives of the Office of Development and the Center for International Programs and Services.
The students represented the broad support given to Gallaudet by the Nippon Foundation, which assists about eight students each year through the Sasakawa International Scholarship and the World Deaf Leadership Scholarship. Like the other students present, Mary Dakim was able to articulate from first-hand experience how the Nippon Foundation helps the deaf community.

My life has changed because of that scholarship,” said Dakim, a graduate student from Nigeria’s Jos Plateau State. She paid for her first year of graduate studies in international development out of her own pocket, and was unsure if she would be able to continue for a second year. The Sasakawa scholarship not only allowed her to stay, but alerted her to Nippon-sponsored programs in her country that address agricultural and social problems. Dakim hopes to work with the foundation when she returns home, and hopes to establish her own non-governmental organization to assist women with disabilities in obtaining arable land.

Future collaborations between Gallaudet and Nippon could manifest on multiple continents in several ways, said Hurwitz. One project he and Sasakawa discussed is an international policy institute, which could have one branch on Kendall Green and another in Tokyo, Japan, to focus on laws that affect people with disabilities. Another project, already in motion, is a software infrastructure for sign language dictionaries. The software program would allow more people to create dictionaries for their native sign languages. For some signing communities, this could mean the first formal documentation of their language, and a step toward broader recognition of it as a cultural entity.

The partnership between Gallaudet and the Nippon Foundation goes back some 17 years. Hurwitz and Sasakawa have their own connection, as well: The two have worked together since the 1990s, during Hurwitz’s tenure at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and Hurwitz has traveled to Japan five times. The president called the visit “a wonderful opportunity to continue that partnership.”

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