By Hisayo Katsui
I heard the news yesterday that my friend, Taija Heinonen (Executive Director of Abilis Foundation), passed away during her trip in Tanzania. She left me many things and I would like to share some of those with you.
I learned to know her when I started my PhD study at Helsinki University in 2000. She always took her precious time for me whenever I wanted to meet her and interview her. She appreciated my study and encouraged me to continue it. When I was completing my PhD, I was concerned with my future as a researcher of disability and development in Finland. It is not one of the major themes that could attract much attention of research funders. In addition, I am a foreigner here. She then asked me to conduct an evaluation work for Abilis Foundation, where I learned many fundamental issues around the theme of disability and development. That experience has definitely led me to this Ugandan project.
Taija also invited me to become her personal assistant. By the way, her personal assistants were mostly those from Southern countries living in Finland. She was willing to employ those who have difficulty in finding a job in Finland. She is well known for her works in Southern countries, but she was making changes also in Finland starting from her personal level. I respect her so much in that, too.
When I visited Uganda last time, people remembered Taija very much because she travelled Uganda with her husband. They saw Taija in her wheelchair cared and loved by her husband. Her visit encouraged many Ugandan women with disabilities to believe in their future. I’m sure many people in different countries were encouraged in a similar way.
Taija was modest and strong. Thank you Taija.