Tokyo man sends canes to help keep Kyrgyzstan people in need on their feet

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Shinji Matsuda holds a letter of appreciation from Kyrgyzstan.

Shinji Matsuda of Ome City, Tokyo, in September last year shipped about 100 canes to a rehabilitation center in Kyrgyzstan, where he has been mainly involved in supporting visually impaired, and the walking sticks were stuck en route as distribution efforts everywhere ground to a crawl for eight months because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The items finally arrived in May.

“I’m glad to know they arrived safe and sound. Next I’d like to send wheelchairs,” said Matsuda, 72, who received a letter of appreciation for his support by email from the Central Asian country.

After his mandatory retirement from the workforce, Matsuda applied to join a senior overseas volunteer program in the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

He was in Bishkek from 2011 to 2013, coaching visually impaired runners and developing guide runners for athletes with limited vision at a local association for those with sight and hearing issues.

While Matsuda kept in touch with the association after his return to Japan, he learned in around 2018 about the shortage of canes and wheelchairs in Kyrgyzstan.

Matsuda thought he might be able to collect a considerable number of used walking sticks. So in the summer of 2019, he put out the call for out-of-use canes, asking for assistance from a welfare facility in Ome and a marathon guide runners’ group for the vision impaired.

Matsuda finally reached 70 canes for the disabled and 30 canes for the visually impaired, collected at end of December 2019.

Delay in delivery

Matsuda in 2020 prepared the shipment to Kyrgyzstan as the coronavirus spread worldwide. He was disappointed and at a loss, not knowing the best method to send the items as shipping and air services stopped one by one.

It was September last year that a post office gave the OK to accept the shipment via sea mail, so Matsuda sent the 100 canes packed in five cardboard boxes. However, there was no news of the shipment’s arrival, even after six months. Such shipments normally take about three months to arrive.

Matsuda on May 4 finally received news from the Kyrgyz facility of the shipment’s long-awaited arrival, eight months after the canes left Japan.

The 70 canes for the disabled are used at the rehabilitation center, and the 30 for the visually impaired were sent to an organization that serves such people.

Matsuda subsequently received an email with a photo from a presentation ceremony the facility held, along with a letter of appreciation expressing a deep gratitude to him for the kind consideration of disabled children and adults.

Said Matsuda: “There were moments when I felt frustrated because the shipment had not arrived, but now I’m glad because I was able to deliver the goodwill of those who cooperated with our project.”

Courtesy of Shinji Matsuda
A special ceremony for the arrival of a shipment of canes is held at a rehabilitation center in Kyrgyzstan. In the foreground, canes Matsuda sent are seen.