¡Highly Commended
gLooking Forward to the Shining Eyesh
Mr. Takahiro Sakamoto, Yamaga City, Kumamoto Prefecture

gKeita Harada?h gHere!h gHaruna Suzuki?h gHere!h The classroom is full of the energetic voices of children again today. They all have shining eyesc and they all fix their curious gazes upon me. How many years have passed since that first day?

I was steadily losing my sight and felt depressed both at work and at home. I was so dismayed that I could no longer eat. I felt like doing nothing and thinking nothing, a clear symptom of stress. It was around that time that I overheard my daughter reading something aloud. Listening intently I caught words like gBrailleh and gLouis Braille.h Filled with curiosity I asked my daughter about it. She told me that she was reading a story entitled, gReading by Hand and Heart,h in her Japanese textbook.

When I heard that, it dawned on me, gThatfs right. I still have hands and I still have my heart. I have yet to lose everything!h I was on the brink of losing heart at the time. gYes, Ifll try learning Braille!h
I felt inspiration welling up from deep inside.
Since then, I have taken to reading Braille books every day, as if they were the only hope in my life. However, the reality was more difficult than I had imagined. I sometimes felt like giving up and had to encourage myself. In the end, I managed to learn to read Braille, and was filled with a sense of accomplishment.

Right around the time that I was finally getting over the shock of losing my eyesight, I received a phone call from my daughterfs school. They asked me to give a presentation to the children about visually challenged people and Braille. With slight hesitation, I decided to accept the invitation.

Finally, the day came and I kept wondering, gWill I be able to speak well in front of children?h gWill I be able to explain things to them well?

I walked through my old school gate, still feeling anxious. After that, I remember nothing except being completely absorbed in the presentation and talking on and on. The only other thing I recall clearly is the childrenfs energetic voices and their intense, almost piercing gaze upon me as I entered the classroom. The eyes of these children must be shining like stars filling the sky, I thought to myself.

Since that time, I have been captivated by those eyes and have visited countless schools. However, I have never been satisfied with my presentation. Every time I reflect regretfully on what I have said.

Once when I was doing a school presentation, I gave my usual speech about disability in general and visual impairment in particular. During the following period, I taught them Braille, which was the most popular part for the young students. They first learned the basic knowledge and then practiced typing Braille by themselves. We started with gmeuchih (the six-dot figure) and learned the positions of the six dots. Then we proceeded to the fifty Japanese characters and finished with the children writing their own names. I encouraged them by saying, gGood, all correct. Well done.h

Towards the end, one girl came to show me her work and it was all wrong. I pointed out her mistakes and told her to try again, but she came back to me with the same mistakes. Without much thought, I said to her, gSee, thatfs wrong. You type Braille on the reverse side. You shouldnft type it on the side you read.h I told her to try again and come back. While all of the other children got it right, the girl went back to her seat a little confused. (I didnft realize she was struggling until later.)

On her next try she only got half right and the other half was still wrong. It was then that I suddenly realized that she might have a slight learning disability. If so, how insensitive I had been! I had been so preoccupied with myself that I had not stopped to really pay attention to her. Silently apologizing to her in my mind, I took her hand and taught her how to make the letters one by one. gThank youc very much,h she whispered to me. Her voice sounded as if she were about to cry.

The girl finally typed her name in Braille correctly. I said loudly, gCongratulations, well done. You did a beautiful job.h Applause spontaneously erupted in the room and the girl seemed very happy. When I left, she thanked me again and again. Though I did not actually say it, the wholehearted smile I gave her meant, gThank you!h

Later I received letters from all of the students, including one from that same little girl. Her timid Braille read, gEven though learning Braille was difficult, I enjoyed it a lot. Please come to our school again.h I smiled to myself.

I think sometimes we disabled people tend to forget to extend kindness to others even though we assume that we can depend on receiving help. I am thankful to that little girl for helping me learn this important lesson, and I will take this new understanding with me as I continue to visit schools.

I always look forward to seeing their shining eyes.

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