Association of Medical Doctors of ASIA, founded in 1984, Consultative Status with UN ECOSOC since 1995









Visit to AMDA Bangladesh (3): Micro-credit program to support children with Down syndrome

Publication date:2019-09-04
By Dr. Shigeru Suganami M.D., Ph.D. (President of AMDA)

(Continued from last article.)
On the following day, I traveled to Gazaria Upazila which happens to be only 40 kilometers away from the central part of Dhaka. Nonetheless, it took us three hours to get there after getting caught in the infamously heavy traffic.

In fact, Gazaria has a lot to do with AMDA Bangladesh. Prof. Sarder A. Nayeem, who heads the chapter, and Mr. Sarder A. Razzak, its director, both grew up in the area, and now AMDA Bangladesh runs a three-story vocational training center in the locality which was built with the Grant Aid for Grassroots Projects provided by the Japanese Embassy in Bangladesh. In flood-prone Dhaka, the facility is also used as an evacuation shelter to save residents from inundation.

At the vocational training center, I wanted to assess if a food dryer (a machine that makes dried food) can be incorporated into a micro-credit program which AMDA Bangladesh has been running since 1999. I also wanted to see if children with Down syndrome could be part of this effort.

A food dryer is a machine that desiccates fresh food for prolonged preservation. This time, I came to Bangladesh with Mr. Soichiro Yasuhara who owns Taiki Sangyo, an Okayama-based company that manufactures the device. Taiki Sangyo holds the top market share for food dryers in Japan, and it was his eagerness to do his part in oversea cooperation that led him to join me on this trip.

In 2014, JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) inquired Taiki Sangyo to provide food drying devices to war-torn Sudan. Local people were having difficulty not being able to transport fresh agricultural produce from regional areas to Al-Khartoum, the capital, as groceries used to get stale before reaching the market. The food dryer changed everything for good and now people in the city can appreciate fresh produce at home. In recent years, the device has been exported worldwide to countries such as Kenya, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

At the said vocational training center, more than 30 women from the micro-credit program came to attend an explanatory meeting for a micro food-drying venture. The majority of women showed interest in the business, putting aside the issue that the cheapest dryer would cost 50,000 JPY (more than 470 USD).

Being aware of its price, Mr. Yasuhara initially said he would provide a demo model for free. However, we thought merely giving it out wouldn’t help nurture their entrepreneurship, and instead, decided to lease the device by allowing a longer loan-repayment period (with the price discounted to 30,000 JPY at last). As partnership plays a crucial role in our activities, we thought leasing it rather than donating it would keep every concerned party on a level playing field, enabling all of us to avoid the one-sided “donor-to-recipient” pitfall which aid organizations tend to fall into. Mr. Razzak agreed with my idea, and finally, it was decided that a food dryer would be leased on a three-year loan. (The repayment begins after the product-monitoring period of two years.)

As for activities concerning children with Down syndrome, the efforts have been supported by the profit gained from the micro-credit program. In other words, the parents do not need to shoulder any financial burden in this regard. In Islamic communities, there is still a social norm in which such children should be helped benevolently based on the concept of sponsorship. However, we want to turn that “sponsorship” into “partnership” where children with Down syndrome and their parents can also be part of this income-generation initiative.

As far as my plan is concerned, I want to allow children with Down syndrome to have a role in the dried-food processing after everyone feels comfortable using the food dryer. As WHO defines it, social participation is an important pillar in the definition of people’s well-being. Just as previously mentioned, the children have already been involved in food-packing training. I firmly believe that being appreciated by others will be a small step in achieving self-realization.

In Okayama, Soja City Mayor Mr. Soichiro Kataoka made a pledge to create 1,000 jobs for people with disabilities in the next couple of years. The number has already gone far beyond what he had promised in his manifesto, and now the target has been raised to 1,500. It is fair to say that Mayor Kataoka has transformed the concept of “salvaging the weak” into “turning walls into doors”. He has succeeded in giving chances to people with special needs who are highly competent and motivated, although local employers deserve credit for much of the success.

Not being able to make most of opportunities due to impairment is sheer discrimination. Human rights are all about paying respect to others and this could be explained in three lines: 1) “We will not forget you”, 2) “We are interested in you”, and 3) “We need you”. From this standpoint, I want to highly rate Mayor Kataoka's determination. He has done a great job in fighting prejudice and human rights violation.

Simply put, I am hoping to create similar opportunities for children with Down syndrome with everyone involved in the micro-credit program.
    •  President's Message
    •  Micro Credit (Comprehensive Livelihood Support)
    •  Bangladesh
    •  2019
    •  GPSP