Sotai & Kai, Making a difference | Feature | wavemag.com.np
Sotai & Kai, Making a difference
by TSERING DOLKER GURUNG
As I walked into the premises of Sotai & Kai Therapy Centre, a smiling Devendra Maharjan greeted me. Ushering me into the waiting room he kept me company while I waited for owner, Torakichi Akita to arrive. After seconds of rummaging through a pile of magazines laid on the table, he tugged at my sleeve and then pointed towards an old issue of WAVE. I nodded and smiled. This is how we changed our pleasantries, with me trying my best at sign language before Tora arrived.
For Torakichi Akita, looking after the project that was his father Yoshihito Akito’s dream brings an immense sense of fulfillment. “This is what my father wanted and I am more than glad to be overseeing it,” says Tora. Sotai & Kai Therapy Centre, opened by the senior Akito seventeen years ago came up with a novel project in 2010- to train deaf people in Japanese physiotherapy and employ them. It is this project that has benefited many like Devendra and Bhakta whose chances at good employment are rare, if any. “I used to work as a sign language teacher in Sindhupalchowk for Rs.5000 a month. With that money, it was difficult even to feed myself,” says Devendra, 28, who has been working at the centre since the project began two years ago. Today he is a happy man. “I love this job,” he signals. Bhakta echoes the same feelings. Originally from Tanahun, the 21 year old was forced to drop out of school and made to work in the fields by his father who felt that for a deaf person like Bhakta, education wasn’t necessary. “I would still be in the fields if it wasn’t for this job,” Tora translates for me.
Like Devendra and Bhakta, there are three other deaf masseuses at the centre who were selected from a pool of people who were given a week’s training initially by the father-son duo. The selected ones then had to go through a three months intensive training. “Teaching the deaf is much easier than people assume it to be,” Tora tells me who along with his father, studied sign language for two and half months from Prakash Maharjan of Kathmandu Association of Deaf (KAD) before beginning trainings for the deaf. Although, initially the Akitas faced some difficulties communicating, but with time Tora says, “Things have taken a good turn.” Now a fluent communicator in sign language, Tora has no problem swiftly translating my questions to his employees and their answers to me.
It was Rani Kakshapati of the Bakery Café franchise who first gave the idea of employing deaf people as masseuses to Yoshihito. After working with Nepali people for fifteen years and having to bear the consequences of unstable employees, Yoshihito decided to give it a try. “They are the most loyal workers, intelligent and utterly dedicated bunch,” Tora says of his employees. The centre which recently opened its second branch in Baluwatar, a feat Tora acknowledges was possible because of his employees’ determination, offers Sotai and Kai treatment, body balancing massages, and reflexology.
The customers are taught few, basic sign language beforehand to avoid miscommunication during the massage and treatment session. The receptionist at the centre has also been trained in sign language. “There have been no complaints from our customers so far,” says Tora who wants to expand the project further. “My goal is to reach out outside Kathmandu. We are thinking of opening one in Pokhara but since it’s impossible to open our center everywhere. We are planning to collaborate with local businesses,” explains Tora about his future plans.
At a recent visit to Jumla where Tora and Devendra provided massages and treatments to around seventy five locals, he spoke of his plan with the owner of Amar Sandesh Hotel, a popular stop for INGO and NGO workers. “The plan is to train them here in Kathmandu and then send them to their native places where they can start their own work,” Tora adds.