Spotlight: “An Asian Festival of Inclusive Arts”
Your Excellency, Prince Sisowath Panara Sirivudh, Minister of Culture and Fine Arts, Ambassador Shinohara, Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
I am delighted to be present at this first international festival of performing arts for people with disabilities to be held in Cambodia.
The Nippon Foundation has been engaged in a number of projects in Cambodia to help improve people’s lives. In the area of food production, we introduced a new strain of cassava. We have been promoting sustainable farming methods with a focus on soil conservation and increasing yields.
In the field of education, we helped to construct 100 schools in areas that were once controlled by the former Pol Pot Regime. From 2004, we started a scholarship program to support students who want to become teachers.
Where disabilities are concerned, landmines and disease have created a large demand for artificial limbs. Since 1999, we have supported the training of professional technicians to address this need.
We have also supported the Association of the Blind in Cambodia, led by Mr. Boun Mao. The association has worked tirelessly for the empowerment of visually-impaired persons in Cambodia. In addition, we have been backing a project to produce a Khmer sign-language dictionary.
As a representative of The Nippon Foundation, I am proud of our involvement in such projects. They go beyond food aid and monetary support, and focus on strengthening social infrastructure.
For the next 8 days, artists from Asian nations such as Vietnam, Nepal, Singapore, Laos and Japan will be providing you with night after night of magical performances. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Epic Arts, the Cambodian government, and to all others who have contributed their time and effort to make this festival possible.
Its purpose is two-fold:
-First, to show society that prejudice and discrimination against people with disabilities are unwarranted.
-And second, to provide people with disabilities with an opportunity to build up their confidence and pride.
I know from my work as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination about the barriers of prejudice and discrimination that people with disabilities face. But if we are to build a healthy society, it is essential that these barriers come down. Developing countries in the midst of industrial development often do not have the resources to provide support for people with disabilities. But with some assistance from society, people with disabilities are perfectly capable of living their daily lives without difficulty. I strongly believe that only when we are able to look past “disability” will we have achieved a healthy society.
In this respect, artistic endeavours, from dance to Japanese drumming, play an important role. As you watch the performances given by these talented artists, you will see that ability and talent transcend the artificial societal barrier that we call “disability.” I am positive that you will be both astonished and moved by the beauty of the performances at this festival. When they are done, you will agree with me that these professional artists are of the highest international calibre, at least the equal of artists who do not face the additional challenge of disability.
I believe that art is a tool with the power to shatter the wall that divides the disabled and the able-bodied. This festival will show what persons with disabilities are capable of achieving. So, let us give a warm welcome to the talented artists who have come together to stage performances that we shall remember for years to come.