Habilis Japan, one of our FIT 2019 beneficiary organisations, provides support for children with disabilities and their development in the future. We interviewed Director Kiyoka Fujiwara and Secretary General Tomoko Noguchi.
FIT: Could you tell us about your background and how you started Habilis Japan?
Fujiwara: I am currently a doctor in the rehabilitation department at the University of Tokyo Hospital. Even after I gave up gymnastics due to an injury I suffered when I was a student, I felt the significance that sports and physical activity played in the development of human mental health and society, so I set my sights on becoming a doctor in the field of sports.
I participated in a camp for children with disabilities about 10 years ago, and I was very surprised to see children happily and enthusiastically participating in the activities. Their facial expressions were completely different from when we had them repeating the same movements at the rehabilitation centre. I was impressed by the fact the children were so absorbed in their activities that they didn’t notice they were doing the same rehabilitation.
Also, when I studied in Canada, it was commonplace for the rehabilitation centres to support children through activities promoting physical movement and have an overall support system including for prosthetic limbs. Habilis Japan was established in recognition of the need to set up a group outside the hospital to provide rehabilitative programs that are fun and make people want to continue, and to support children’s participation in society.
Noguchi: I am an occupational therapist at the University of Tokyo Hospital who provides rehabilitation for children with prosthetic limbs. I felt that I could not support children satisfactorily just in the hospital, and the story of Habilis Japan resonated with me, so I became part of the launch of the organisation. Seeing the increase in the activities of children with prosthetic limbs and the additional challenges they take, makes me feel very happy we launched Habilis Japan. .
FIT: Could you tell us about the challenges and rewarding experiences you had in launching and running Habilis Japan?
Noguchi: The launch of Habilis Japan involved doctors, occupational therapists, prosthesis engineers, prosthetists, and people from industries that have nothing to do with medical care. Therefore, the process of gathering opinions and forming a group was difficult. However, I think it was really good that staff with various backgrounds and strengths were able to gather and create various projects, and that Habilis was a place where members could share their knowledge and experiences.
Fujiwara: I found it hard to balance the main jobs of our staff with their involvement in Habilis Japan. Since there are no full-time staff members, we use our private time to run Habilis Japan. This was particularly an issue when we were running events.
Hospitals can only provide support within the medical system, but as Habilis Japan is not a medical institution, we have more freedom to use programs and purchase items that cannot be used in hospitals and use them in our activities. It also provides a very meaningful opportunity for doctors and occupational therapists to share their knowledge beyond the confines of a hospital, and for children and their families to give their opinions on prosthetic limbs through events.
FIT: How was the FIT donation used?
Fujiwara: At the moment, all events are cancelled due to the COVID-19 situation and we have not been able to purchase the planned prosthetic parts. We are currently looking for what kind of programs can be developed under this situation. In the future, I would like to organise family gatherings online, and plan future events as we trial different programs
FIT: What are your thoughts on the future?
Fujiwara: I would like to expand the range of prosthetic parts we can handle and establish a support system. I hope that by increasing the range of easy to use prosthetic limbs that more children will be able to use them comfortably. In addition to children with arm and leg disabilities, we hope to create an inclusive environment for a broader range of children to participate in our enjoyable exercise classes. In the future, we also hope to share the know-how of Habilis Japan with regional communities and enable them with a system to be able to hold similar events.