Ceremony for the Establishment of the Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund at Jadavpur University

Jadavpur, India

Your Excellency Viren J. Shah and Vice-Chancellor A.N. Basu, distinguished guests, members of the University community, ladies and gentlemen:

It is a great pleasure for me to be here today to celebrate Jadavpur University’s initiation into the Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund.

On behalf of The Nippon Foundation and our partner organization, the Tokyo Foundation, I would like to express our sincere appreciation to the University for arranging this ceremony.
The Nippon Foundation, of which I am President, was founded by my late father Ryoichi Sasakawa in 1962. Based upon his motto, “The world is one family; all humankind are brothers and sisters,” our foundation supports humanitarian activities in ways that transcend political, ideological, religious, racial, and national boundaries.

In the field of overseas assistance, the Foundation has worked to better people’s lives around the world. Over the past forty years, we have been active around the world in such areas as basic human needs, social reform and development, the development of human resources and the promotion of mutual understanding. We have supported international institutions, NGOs, and the governments of more than ninety nations.

In India, the field into which I personally am pouring the majority of my strength is the elimination of leprosy. Since the dawn of recorded history, there have been numerous references to leprosy. It was written about in Indian classics as early as the Sixth Century B.C., and has plagued humankind for centuries. However, today the disease is curable in six months to a year thanks to Multi-Drug Therapy. Due to this therapy, the number of people affected by leprosy has fallen from more than 12 million in the 1980s to about 6 hundred thousand today. India, in 2002 still had about 474 thousand patients, a number which represents 70 percent of the world’s total. I, as WHO’s special ambassador for the elimination of leprosy have already come to this country three times this year. Since last year, I have focused my visits on the particularly endemic northern states of the country—Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal. There, I have met with the chief ministers and health ministers, urging them to give leprosy elimination a high priority in the health program of their states. Further, I have visited hospitals, primary health centers and village sub-centers to encourage those working on the elimination effort and have met with health workers to discuss what kind of measures are necessary. I am also appealing to the media of these various states to help us in spreading correct information about the disease.

In India, a country of a billion people, with more than a hundred languages, it is no simple thing to teach correct facts, especially the fact that this is a curable disease. This problem is made even more difficult by the stigma surrounding the disease and its resulting discrimination. I firmly believe that this country’s biggest challenge is figuring out how to reach unreachable patients. The health workers in endemic regions around India are putting forth exhaustive effort to find hidden leprosy cases. However, their quest is being hindered by the strong but mistaken feeling that leprosy is a frightening disease. I would like to use this opportunity to urge all of you gathered here to take the following three messages to as many people around you as possible. One: Leprosy is curable. Two: The treatment can be had free of charge at nearby primary health centers. Three: Discrimination has no place. Though for many of you, this may be the first time to learn about this problem, I earnestly request your understanding and cooperation.

Following this, I will be visiting Maharashtra in my capacity as special ambassador, and plan to visit Wardha, where Mahatma Gandhi began his leprosy work. The elimination of leprosy is my lifework, and I believe that the first step in this direction will begin with elimination in India.

Now, while leprosy is one of our foundation’s most important initiatives in the medical field, please permit me to turn to the Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund, or SYLFF, our largest educational effort.
The fund bears the name of my father, Ryoichi Sasakawa, who gave his entire life, till he passed away in 1995 at the age of 96, to trying to improve the lives of the people of the world.

He strongly felt that, in order to enable a country to help itself on the road to development, the most important thing was to give its young people the chance to educate themselves as well as possible. He had an entirely global perspective, and hoped that through education, young people could gain not only knowledge and skills but also tolerance of other ways of thinking, coming to accept the multiplicity of cultures and values. SYLFF, which I started 16 years ago in his name, is a concrete example of this ideal.

Since the program’s inception in 1987, the SYLFF network has grown to include 68 universities and consortia in 45 countries. The number of students who have received SYLFF fellowships around the world has surpassed 8,500. I would like to extend our hearty welcome to Jadavpur University into the SYLFF family.

As many of you know, The Nippon Foundation provides the funds for SYLFF endowments, and the Tokyo Foundation handles the administration. One of the unique features of this program is that the SYLFF program not only gives fellowships to the “best and brightest students,” but also provides various opportunities for SYLFF fellows to collaborate with their counterparts around the world, and to build networks within the SYLFF community. For instance, this year, three regional SYLFF Forums were convened in the United States, Egypt and Thailand to engage both current and former SYLFF fellows in discussions both about the formation of SYLFF networks and on the theme, Multiculturalism: Capitalizing on the Wealth of Diversity. Next month, representatives from each of the regional forums will convene in Tokyo to discuss how to further strengthen the SYLFF program. Thus, the SYLFF Fellows, once selected, will have ample opportunities to broaden their scope of activities.

I always ask SYLFF fellows not to be satisfied simply to have received their fellowships. Rather, I hope that they use this as a chance to open their eyes wide so that they can see the various problems facing the world. I hope that they will then show the courage necessary to build a better world. I hope that they will rise above differences in nationality, ethnicity, religion, culture and ideology to become leaders who take problems in hand at local, national and global levels.

The Bengalese poet Rabindranath Tagore, the first Asian to be awarded the Nobel Prize of Literature, has left the world many great works of literature. As it happens, Tagore came to Japan four times during his lifetime. He had an especially strong friendship with the Japanese thinker Tenshin Okakura, and the two men are said to have inspired each other in their work. They are said to have shared an “understanding of the hearts and a spiritual connection.” Together, they used to contemplate the future of the Asian people.

From the early twentieth century, since the days of Tagore and Okakura, the people of Japan and India have nurtured a strong friendship, though for the past several decades, there has not been a very active interaction between the two. However, last year marked the 50th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. In 2000, then-Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori came to your country and both countries agreed to establish the India-Japan Global Partnership. In the wake of these two events, the bilateral relationship has grown extremely close these days. Nevertheless, there is a strong necessity to further broaden and develop this friendship, and I firmly believe that this SYLFF Fellowship Fund is an important step in this direction. I am very grateful to all of you who have selflessly and diligently given your time for this endeavor.

Thus, it is our distinct honor to present the endowment to one of the most prestigious university in the world. We are confident that the SYLFF Program at Jadavpur University will be a great success.