ASEAN Festival of Disabled Artists

Naypyidaw, Myanmar

I would like to extend to everyone a warm welcome to the ASEAN Festival of Disabled Artists and thank all the performers and participants who have gathered here from the ASEAN countries. Mrs. Akie Abe, the first lady of Japan graciously accepted to be the honorary patron of this festival. She has a profound understanding of and compassion for the welfare of people with disabilities, and had been looking forward to attending the festival, but unfortunately her official duties prevented her from joining us this year. But she has sent us a message that will be read later on her behalf.

I am indeed very happy that this festival is taking place on a very important day. December 3rd is a day to be commemorated because the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed it the International Day of People with Disabilities in 1992 to draw attention to the fundamental rights of the people with disabilities. In the past, they were excluded from full participation in society, and also deprived of such opportunities as higher education and employment. But that is history today.

It has been through the determination of the people with disabilities themselves to surmount the obstacles they faced, and the initiatives of various groups, that the doors of opportunity are now opening up for the people with disabilities. The Nippon Foundation has been working for over 20 years now with different partners from around the world, particularly in Asia. Some of our work related to people with disabilities includes offering scholarships in support of higher education, compiling a sign language dictionary, helping to establish a legal framework, and establishing personal networks, all in the hope of contributing to their full participation in society. We have become keenly aware of the huge potential that people with disabilities possess through our long years of experience. We believe that it is important to convey that potential to society.

This Festival of Disabled Artists is the realization of our long pursued dream to make the public better aware of the power and the hope of people with disabilities. Last year, at Myanmar’s first festival for people with disabilities, blind artists, deaf drummers, and wheelchair dancers all showed off their talents and put on outstanding performances. A total of 4,900 people attended the three-day event. The audiences were in awe as they saw performer after performer brimming with talent and confidence. I too was filled with emotion.

I would like to take a moment to introduce the Myanmar Independent Living Initiative, or MILI, which was founded by three motivated young leaders with disabilities. The group has made it its mission to help people with disabilities overcome barriers and strive to reach their full potential. Since 2011, The Nippon Foundation has been supporting their training and leadership programs in particular. These are the people who made last year’s festival the great success together with Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, Myanmar. They are back to manage and operate the latest event as well.

And we have another group that is back again: the deaf Taiko drummers of Japan’s Koshu Deaf Taiko Group. We look forward to another powerful and moving drum performance by them.

The Nippon Foundation has supported ASEAN artists at similar festivals in Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. We hope these festivals will be agents of change that serve to boost the self-confidence of people with disabilities and bring a sense of joy and pride to their family members. I welcome very much the future initiatives of these countries to ensure the rights of people with disabilities. It is also our wish that governments will continue to listen to people with disabilities and have their voices reflected in policies, while also providing opportunities for society to embrace the concept of diversity and move in the direction of an inclusive society.

Thank you very much.