Twenty years ago, Wakako Yamaji visited Myanmar to do some volunteer work and that experience, along with the people she met, changed her life.
“Meeting handicapped people with beautiful smiles, I thought I would come again,” Yamaji, 79, said.
Today, Yamaji, who has been teaching sewing and handicrafts to handicapped women in Myanmar since then, has published a book on her 20 years of helping people there.
Supporters of Yamaji, who lives in Osaka, held a party at a hotel on May 24 to celebrate the book’s publication.
Yamaji, who enjoys sewing, applied to do volunteer work in Myanmar under the Osaka YMCA in 1992, after she retired from the YWCA.
Yamaji, who had taken a part-time job at a kindergarten, visited the country as an Osaka YMCA volunteer for the first few years by utilizing the kindergarten's long-leave system.
Even after the YMCA's volunteer dispatching program ended, she made repeated trips to Myanmar at her own expense. She has spent up to about 10 months a year at a time there.
Yamaji has visited many places in Myanmar from her base in the central city of Mandalay.
The Osaka YMCA, other social services groups and supporters collected sewing tools, cloth and thread, and sent them to her, using donations from across Japan.
Yamaji, together with a delegation from a Japanese association of Girl Scouts, met with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in January this year.
“I had wanted to meet her someday,” she said. “The meeting is a treasure.”
At the party for her book’s publication, officials of organizations that have been supporting Yamaji offered her words of encouragement.
“I hope you will continue your activities until you are satisfied,” someone said. “Keep moving forward,” said another.
“I am filled with emotion on this occasion,” Yamaji said before the participants. “I would like to keep walking slowly, facing eye to eye with people in Myanmar.”
She said her next visit will be in June, after she receives her pension money.
She printed 400 copies of her book (whose title roughly translates into “In Burma, putting love and prayer into each interaction”).Yamaji presented copies to those who have helped her.
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