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Disability is not inability to give back

~by: Rina Choo~

The Deaf & Hard of Hearing Federation (Singapore) and Deaf Artists of Singapore are supporting and organizing an international event for earthquake victims of Japan. It will be Marina Barrage at 2pm this Sunday (2 October 2011). TOC caught up with Danny Gong (DG) the Director of DeafJapan, the initiator of this project.

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TOC: Tell us more about the event and what triggered you to think of something like this?

DG: After the Great Earthquake and Tsunami hit Tohoku, we thought about Deaf people, their family and friends who were living in the affected areas. We decided to hold a Photo Event in Osaka and 50 people came to show their support. From their support we raised about $550 USD and donated it to the Japanese Federation of the Deaf. There are so many photos showing the aftermath of the Tsunami, I thought it would be nice to do a group photo of people coming together and showing a strong positive Visual piece for the survivors in Tohoku.

TOC: Can you explain more about what DHHFS does?

DG: The Deaf and Hard of Hearing Federation (DHHFS) as well as a Deaf Dance Group/EO Horizons has volunteered to help me in this project. DHHFS is managed entirely by its Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing members. The Federation was established in 1998 with the mission to advocate for equal opportunities for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing people who are capable. DHHFS supports all services that improve its members lives.

TOC: What are the main reasons for supporting this cause, considering the fact that the disasters which struck Japan happened almost 6 months ago? What are your future plans (if there are any) regarding this event?

DG: From the initial photo that was taken in Osaka, many other Deaf communities in other parts of Japan wanted to show their support in a similar way. We went to Hiroshima and because I was worried about the weather, I thought of telling all the volunteers to bring umbrellas. But then I quickly realized that umbrellas would look very powerful in a group photo as well as carry a sub-message, "Let's Protect Tohoku". I was very happy with the results and continued to bring my umbrellas other places like, Hokkaido, Miyajima, and Nagoya.

Singapore is the first place outside of Japan for me to continue this project. What started as a local project in Osaka, then to a domestic project, has now become international. I hope that with this first step in Singapore, this will open up to the Deaf Communities around the world.

Eventually, I would like to make a photo book, with all the photos of different places and people around the world showing their support to the survivors. In addition, I would like to donate a percentage of the sales of the book to organizations which are helping with the relief efforts in Tohoku.

TOC: How do you intend to make the event an international one? Do you plan to engage other NGOs from overseas?

DG: After Singapore, I will contact other NGO's and show them the work that I have been doing. Volunteers are the key to this project. Without people, I would just have umbrellas on the floor and it would very difficult to manage there was a strong gust of wind. Since this project is being paid for out of my own pocket, I would accept any kind of sponsorship to help with cost of my expenses. I plan on making proposals to find sponsors.

TOC: What are your views on volunteering as an organization to disaster–struck areas as compared to individual efforts of volunteering?

DG: I believe that volunteering as an organization provide support on a large scale, while individual efforts provide support on a local scale. Large scale support like, food, water, shelter, medicine is a necessity to survive, which organizations have the funding to continue that kind of help. While on the other hand, my friend, Jamie El-Bana, is volunteering on his own in Tohoku as a volunteer coordinator for foreigners who want to help the survivors with clearing out mud, cleaning and cataloguing recently found photos. Both are essential for any place that has been hit with a disaster.

TOC: Lastly, can you give us a brief run-down on your event?

DG: The purpose of DeafJapan is to enrich Deaf and hearing people lives by teaching them American Sign Language, Japanese Sign Language and English. Sign Language is a language and it can be used to communicate with people from other countries. Many of our students have gone abroad to the United States, Hong Kong, Korea etc and have been able to communicate with people in those countries.

In addition to having classes every week in Osaka and Kyoto, we do events, workshops and parties to promote Deaf culture.

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