One of the reasons for launching the Global Appeal in Japan this year and hosting related events was to create an opportunity for younger generations of Japanese to learn more about the disease and the issues surrounding it. One of the people who can teach much in that regard is Mr. Yasuji Hirasawa, who spoke at the international symposium on leprosy that followed the Global Appeal.
He was placed in National Sanatorium Tama Zenshoen in Tokyo at the age of 14 and has lived there since. In describing a lifetime of activism from within the confines of a leprosarium, he recounted the discrimination he often ran up against in seeking to improve conditions not just for people with leprosy but for all persons with disabilities. He undertook this task even as his own disabilities were worsening.
“I decided if I couldn’t use my right hand, I would use my left; if I couldn’t use my left hand, I would use my mouth; and if I couldn’t speak, I would seek help. There is no shame in being disabled; there is only shame in giving up.”
Now well into his eighties, Mr. Hirasawa is far from giving up. He speaks to some 5,000 children a year. They are among the visitors to the National Hansen’s Disease Museum in Tokyo that he helped to establish to leave behind proof of the existence of people who had been forced to live in isolation. “It is not easy to live,” he tells them, “but I want you to be strong and endure hardship.” His determination that his experiences and those of his fellow sanatorium residents should serve as the foundation for a future free of discrimination is undiminished.