Sunday, March 20, 2011

Beautiful People

I have not looked at these photos in a very long time. These pictures are almost 20 years old. I have not told the story of how it all began -- how I fell in love with these beautiful people.

My mother's younger sister, my aunt Yoshiko has developmental disabilities. I do not know all the details of what her disability is or how she became disabled. Growing up, we used to go visit my grandma twice a year. I did not know how to interact with my aunt. Fear of unknown, perhaps. Different. Was I scared? No, I don't think so. My aunt is the most gentle person. But I remember this awkwardness. I knew I was to be kind to her, but didn't know how. My aunt does not speak. She makes these grunting noises. As far as I know, she never went to school. I have never seen her leave the house. She wore diapers.
When I was in college, I decided to spend two summers working at Upward Bound Camp in Oregon State. It is a camp for persons with special needs. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I knew I was supposed to be there. Knowing that I was supposed to be there did not make it any easier for me. Many times, I wanted to quit. But this is where I fell in love with these beautiful people. People who live with developmental and physical disabilities. The work was hard. Majorities of our tasks were looking after the campers' daily physical needs, such as hygiene, medication and assisting them with their meals. It was while changing soiled diapers of a grown woman and holding a drool covered hand of a man, I saw my pride. Filthy pride....but they showed me what love was. They did not judge me. We became friends and made wonderful memories together. We went fishing and hiking together. We skipped rocks in the river.
"Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do... but how much love we put in that action."
-Mother Teresa-
Here I am almost 20 years later, I am beginning to understand the meaning of the mother Teresa quote. I work with individuals with developmental disabilities in my community now. "Making Room"....this is what I am hired to do. Community inclusion. Giving them the best possible quality of life. Helping them find their gifts and abilities. Helping them fulfill their dreams.

I know it wasn't my aunt's fault that she never went out. There was no room in the community. The society doesn't want to acknowledge their existence. The society doesn't know what to do with them. In many countries, these people are sent away to orphanages and institutions to die.

What if my aunt had the chance to go to school and learn to read and to write? What if she had the chance to go fishing and go camping? What if someone had taken the time to find out what her dreams were and helped her fulfill them? I know my grandma loved her. I know my mother loved her. But what if.....

Things are so much better now here in Canada. There are programs, supports, organizations available to help individuals with disabilities have the quality of life they deserve. But I want to ask each of us to look into our hearts. Be honest. When we see a person with disabilities, what is in your heart? Do we pity them? Ignore them? Judge them? Avoid them? Are we uncomfortable? Programs alone aren't going to give them the best life possible. They need a community around them. People who will support them and help them achieve their dreams. They need friends just as we need friends. Will you be that person to someone with disability?

Today is World Down Syndrome Day. This is a day set aside to promote awareness and understanding towards people with Down Syndrome. I am asking myself, "what tangible things can I do to seek a better quality of life for individuals with Down Syndrome (or any other disabilities) in my life?" --Even if I was not hired to do so. And what motivates me to do this? I do not want to be motivated by pride or pity. I do not do this because it makes me feel better about myself. If that's what motivates me, I might as well just go home and forget about it. It isn't something 'special' we are doing. We do this because we are all humans.

A small gesture. Kind words. Making room in your life. It means the world to them when your actions are motivated by love. And I promise you, you will be blessed and changed forever.

Please take a moment to read this post by my friend Krista. As a part of World Down Syndrome Day, she is asking us to give towards adoption grant (through Reese's Rainbow) for a little boy named Bennett. Reese's Rainbow is an organization which promotes and provides support for international adoption of children with Down Syndrome. I have decided to support Krista's effort by giving away some of my handmade bags as incentives for you to give. PLEASE check it out and consider giving.


Krista said...

Beautiful Makiko. I love this post. I love it because it is so evident that you "get it". So encouraging!

RootAndTwig said...

I appreciate this. There are so many things to consider, and I'm so glad we live in the country and in the time that we do.