From Nairobi -2: Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize and Young Japanese Pursuing Career in the World


My second day in Nairobi.  There are many young Japanese people out there whose activities are noteworthy.  Most of them are involved in work done through JICA; but there are others who work at international organizations or are currently studying abroad.  They are involved in regions like Gabon, Congo, Kenya, Burundi, Senegal, and Palestine.  Most of them are young women, who have enormous presence and strength of will.

In addition, the efforts of the driving force behind the whole conference: Professor Yasuhide Nakamura of Osaka University and his team of students, Dr. de Los Reyes and doctorate students, as well as the people from HANDS(an organization that was born out of Professor Nakamura's efforts), have ensured the steady spread of their activities to Kenya and Ethiopia.

I also met some young Japanese students who, after studying abroad in America, have moved on to careers which take them to Africa.  Indeed, there are a lot of young people who are making a name for themselves.

Yesterday, I was overjoyed to receive the following e-mail from one of the participants whom I had met for the first time.

To Doctor Kiyoshi Kurokawa

I spoke with you at the MCH booklet conference today and am currently enrolled in a Masters course at the UCLA School of Public Health.  I have been in Kenya for the past two months.

Dr. Kurokawa's messages, like "challenge your self across disciplines and national borders, and meet different people", "turn your efforts towards the world" inspired me when I was still a medical student.  I went on to extern in US at an hospital, take courses for two months at a medical school in Canada, and also extern at a clinic set up by a NGO in East Timor.  I recall now that I although I was not fluent in English, I was very adventurous and I can only describe it as my being excited at being able to turn my efforts towards the world.  I remember reading your inspiring words sent to students of Tokai University, and I also enjoyed reading the diaries of students of my age of Tokai University doing externs in US medical center.

After graduating, I received training at Okinawa Prefectural Chubu Hospital, after which I went to a small island called Kumejima off the Okinawan coast where I gained clinical experience.  Here I was shocked and surprised at the fact that health disparity exists even within Japan, and this translated into a desire to learn more about social determinants of health, community empowerment, social capacity building, which
led me to UCLA where I enrolled in Community Health Sciences, all of which have led to my being in Kenya.

Of course I had no way of knowing that things would turn out this way, of determining my course with big dreams and ambitions.  But as I made decisions at each turning point in my life, often choosing something that interested me, I find myself quite far away from home.  I believe that my course in life was a result of my having learnt during my student years the joy of meeting different people and constantly being challenged.

During this stay at Kenya as well, I have had the opportunity to visit the home of one of my classmates at UCLA who comes from a small town in the country.  She suggested I go to her house, and I decided to
accept, and that is why I found myself on a crowded minibus known locally as a ‘matatu’ headed to my friend's house. Although they were not wealthy, they welcomed me with open arms and gave me love and affection, and when the time came to part ways, I found tears rolling down my cheeks.

The world is wide, yet is somehow similar.

My challenges and worries have not ended. I am still searching for a way in which to use what I have learnt.

I would like to express my appreciation for your inspiring words which have given me the strength to push on, and I am eagerly looking forward to more.

In the evening, we had special sessions for the Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize (1, 2).  The program started off with a 'kamishibai' play about Hideyo Noguchi by a young man and woman from the UZIMA Foundation, an organization set up by Dr. Were.  This was followed by an overview of the Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize using video images, an address by me as the chairperson, video footage of Miriam Were from Kenya, one of inaugural laureates of the prize at the TICAD4 held in Yokohama, a testimony by Tomohiko Sugishita, a surgeon who has been working in Africa for more than 10 years after being influenced by Hideyo Noguchi in his younger years and also his current study under Dr. Were and the moving story involved; the session was wrapped up by a passionate speech by Dr. Were.

The evening ended with a reception.  Mr. Yoichiro Yamada, Deputy Chief of Mission of Japanese Embassy in Kenya also attended.  Everybody danced together, and we spent a very enjoyable time.

Education which leads to young confident people who are making a difference in the world through their activities is a priority, and such young people are creating a foundation of trust across nations.