Noboru Iwamura describes his father as an
adventurist. Upon hearing from a Christian missionary that Americans could flythis
is the family loreKojiro Iwamura struck out from his rural home on Shikoku Island
and made his way aboard a cargo ship to California. Having finished only middle school, he
was still a youth at the time. His stay in the United States nearly ended in disaster. One
day, an American man spat on him and called him a monkey. He retaliated with a judo
maneuver and barely escaped being lynched by an angry mob. Despite this dangerous
encounter, Kojiro made friends in America and, back in Japan, he established a business
trading Japanese silk to the United States. He also became an advocate of airplanes built
from silk and bambootruly Japanese airplanes, he argued. He once piloted such a
plane for twenty-five minutes before it fell to the ground, leaving him scarred for life.
After his Tokyo offices and workshops were destroyed in the Great Earthquake of September
1923, Kojiro Iwamura returned to his birthplace on Shikoku Island. There he set up a silk
factory in the small town of Uwajima. His first child and only son, Noboru, was born there
on 26 May 1927.
Noboru Iwamuras mother, Shizu Kawabata, grew up in the
cosmopolitan harbor city of Yokohama and became a Christian in her teens. The birth of a
son marked the answer to her most fervent prayers. She had been childless after several
years of marriage and Kojiro was under pressure from his family to divorce her, although
he refused to do so. When little Noboru was old enough, Shizu enrolled him in a Christian
kindergarten and gave him his own Bible, which she required him to carry everywhere. He
disliked having to walk one and a half hours to school and sometimes he sneaked away to
meet his friends elsewhere. But his mothers religion struck a chord. Through her
example and his kindergarten lessons, Iwamura says, "As a six-year-old boy, I started
to pray. I came to recognize that God had some plan for my life."
As a boy, Iwamura suffered the nickname of Aobyotan, which means Green
Gourd, signifying someone who is pale and sickly. Indeed, he was sickly and lay in
bed for weeks at a time with the flu, fever, and tonsillitis. In high school, however, a
friendly botany teacher invited him to help in a tree-planting project. The physical
exercise and fresh air worked wonders and gradually, he says, "I found I was
The decade of the 1930s marked the rise of ultranationalism in Japan
and the rapid expansion of Japans empire into Manchuria and China. For much of the
period, Iwamuras father was away in China where, among other things, he was involved
in aerial reconnaissance flights to detect Chinese troop movements. At home with his
mother and younger sister, Iwamura absorbed the passions of the time. In school, he was
taught that all Japanese should be willing to fight and die for the emperor. However, one
of his teachers in Uwajima High School had served briefly with the Japanese army in China.
Mr. ChibaIwamura remembers him vividlytold the students that Japans war
in China was not noble and that Japanese soldiers there were killing not only Chinese
soldiers but innocent civilians. Stories of this kind circulated widely at the time,
Iwamura says, but it was dangerous to mention them openly. Not one of his other teachers
As the familys only son, it was more or less expected that Noboru
would someday take over his fathers silk-making business. This may explain his
application to attend the Hiroshima Institute of Engineering and Technology after high
school. He passed the entrance examination and, at the age of sixteen, moved to Hiroshima
where he lodged in a dormitory with other boys. The year was 1943 and, outside Japan, the
war was raging. At the institute, Iwamura joined a cohort of eighty students who
specialized in applied chemistry. Other groups of eighty concentrated on motor mechanics
and naval engineering. These academic divisions reflect the fact that ordinary instruction
and research at the Hiroshima Institute of Engineering and Technology had been thoroughly
subordinated to Japans war aims. The school was, in fact, conducting research for
the Imperial Japanese Navy. For this reason, Iwamura and the other students were awarded a
handsome scholarship and exempted from military service.
By mid-1944, Allied forces led by the United States had turned back the
advances of Japans navy in the Pacific and had begun bombing the Japanese homeland.
In the year that followed, Tokyo and other Japanese cities were devastated under the
impact of this campaign. By July 1945, sixty-four Japanese cities had been bombed. Iwamura
and his classmates were well aware of the destruction and havoc occurring not so far away.
But Japanese-language leaflets dropped by American warplanes said that the cities of Kyoto
and Hiroshima would be spared. They were "safe," the leaflets said.
On the morning of 6 August 1945, as the American airplane bearing the
atomic bomb approached Hiroshima, Iwamura was busy at work in a section of the
institutes laboratory used to store chemicals. The room had been fortified with
ferro-cement walls; its windows and doors were made of plate iron. All he remembers of the
blast itself was an intense flash of bluish light piercing the room through a small
window. When he regained consciousness two days later, he learned that the concrete walls
collapsing around him as the bomb hit had created a protective cocoon. The epicenter of
the explosion was 1.2 kilometers away, yet most of Iwamuras classmates died
instantly. Some were turned to ash. Others who lived through the blast itself gradually
died in the days and weeks to come. Of his group of eighty, only Iwamura survived.
He was taken to a tuberculosis quarantine center on an island just off
of Hiroshima. On his first day of consciousness, he remembers hearing terribly burned
people all around him crying out for water, water. The next morning, he said, the ward was
quiet; nearly all of them had died. From the quarantine center, he was admitted to a naval
hospital where he was treated for a burn on his scalp. It was there that a worker from the
familys silk factory, who was sent by his mother in response to an announcement over
the radio, found him and took him home to Uwajima. His mother, who all these years had
been managing the family business, had spent the latter months of the war hiding in a damp
underground bunker. Iwamura found her to be suffering horribly from rheumatism, but she
and his sister had survived the war. And so had his father, who soon returned from China.
Reunited and whole, they were an exception among Japanese families.
As Iwamura pondered his own miraculous survival, he also mourned the
loss of his schoolmates. He wished that his life could somehow compensate for the lives
that they, his friends, would never live. His father now confirmed for him the stories of
Japanese atrocities in China and he also felt the need to atone for them. Driven by these
powerful feelings of gratitude and guilt, he vowed to become a doctor and to lead a life
Although he had survived the bomb, Iwamura was not unharmed by it. He
quickly developed symptoms of leukemia, one of which was bleeding from the kidneys.
Leukemia is unusually common among atomic bomb survivors; it interferes with the healthy
production of red blood cells and clotting agents. Through blood transfusions and
radiation treatments, doctors kept Iwamuras leukemia at bay and he was able to
proceed with his plans. But he would be plagued by the disease for the rest of his life.
When he was sufficiently strong, Iwamura enrolled in Matsuyama Junior
College, located in the capital of Matsuyama Prefecture. During a three-year period there,
he completed a bachelors degree in biology, the prerequisite for embarking upon
medical school proper. After graduating in 1950, he moved immediately to the city of
Tottori on the northern coast of southern Honshu Island and enrolled at the Tottori
University School of Medicine. To help support himselfand for the robust
exerciseIwamura worked for a local farmer in exchange for rice. He also joined a
nondenominational church whose distinguishing characteristic was that it spurned church
buildings and was thus known as the "No-Church Church." It was at the No-Church
Church that he met Fumiko Kadowaki, the daughter of a local schoolteacher and functionary
at a nearby Shinto shrine. Fumiko was a graduate in social work who devoted herself to
helping local orphans and the many now-husbandless women who were struggling to raise
families on their own. Among other things, she assisted women who had turned in
desperation to prostitution to find decent alternative work in factories. Iwamura felt
immense respect for Fumiko and grew fond of her. As they courted, she taught him how to
ski in the nearby mountains, a recreation that became a joy to him. The two were married
on 21 March 1954.
In the year of his marriage, Iwamura finished his medical courses and
embarked on an internship in public health. The following year, he finished the
internship, passed the national medical board examinations, and was licensed to practice.
Instead of practicing medicine, however, he pressed on at Tottori University to earn a
doctorate in public health. This took another three years. He received his doctorate in
1959 and immediately joined the university as an associate professor of medicine.
But he and Fumiko would not linger for long in Tottori.
Iwamura had long ago decided that he wished to practice medicine
somewhere off the beaten track, in "a remote, doctorless place." This is why he
had devoted himself to public health rather than to a hospital-based specialty. (Even
around Tottori, however, he had observed the health hazards resulting when women washed
diapers upstream and rice downstream.) Stoking his ambition were missionaries who
periodically spoke at the church he and Fumiko attended. He remembers one in particular,
an American medical missionary who had fallen ill in Nepal and who had been evacuated to
Japan to recuperate. He said to them, "What is a neighbor? I went to my neighbors in
Nepal and yet my home country is on the other side of the earth. You are in Asia. It is
easy for you to go to your Asian neighbors." Members of the Japan Overseas Christian
Cooperative Society (JOCCS) also visited Tottori and challenged the young doctors to
volunteer for service abroad.
In Nepal at that time, missionary doctors and other volunteers were
organized collectively under the United Mission to Nepal. In 1960, the government of Nepal
approached the United Mission and asked if there was a Japanese doctor available who was a
specialist in tuberculosis and environmental health. "So one day they came to
me," says Iwamura. "And I was very happy to go." He and Fumiko, kindred
spirits, were soon aboard an airplane bearing them to Kathmandu, the countrys
In Kathmandu, they joined seven other couples who had also volunteered
to work in Nepalother doctors and also teachers, engineers, and agriculturalists.
Most of them were American and English. He and Fumiko were the only Japanese. Together
they underwent four months of orientation, learning basic information about the country
and, most importantly, its lingua franca, Nepali. Iwamura well remembers the poor grade he
earned on their final examination in the language: "The worst mark," he says.
Fumiko, on the other hand, was the best in the class.
The country they now encountered was the worlds only surviving
Hindu kingdom. Nepals twentieth-century rulers practiced isolation and had only
recently opened the kingdoms doors, although their domains had once constituted a
commercial and cultural crossroads linking the Indian plains to the highlands of Tibet. A
popular uprising in 1951 wrested power from domineering hereditary premiers and restored
it to the monarchy; by the early 1960s, the first tentative steps toward modernization
were underway. Even then, however, foreigners were generally refused permission to travel
beyond the immediate orbit of Kathmandu and the Terai lowlands. Iwamura and a small number
of other international volunteers were the exception. For most, the hills were strictly
off-limits, and the hills comprised the vast bulk of the country.
Nepal was almost completely bereft of roads. In the entire country of
some fifty-five thousand square miles, there were less than four hundred miles of roadway
navigable by motorcar, most of them in Kathmandu Valley and the lowlands bordering India.
For the rest, as one English observer said at the time, "There were no roads of any
description, not even a bridle path." To help traverse what rough tracks there were,
the Nepalis used beasts of burden: bullocks and ponies; asses, sheep, and goats; and, in
the higher reaches, yaks. But the commonest beasts of burden were Nepali men and women
themselves, who moved nimbly through the hilly terrain, across rope bridges and through
rivers and streams laden with their earthly needs and trade goods andborne in
plaited seats mounted on their backsother people who were too weak or too rich to
walk. Nepals nine million people were scattered across this forbidding landscape,
clustered in thousands of small villages and fragmented into dozens of ethnic groups. Only
6 percent of them could read and write. In the entire country there were fewer than two
When their orientation was over, Iwamura and Fumiko became intimately
acquainted with the realities of the landscape as they wended their way overland to their
new post in Tanzingabout 130 kilometers west of Kathmanduwhere a small mission
hospital was the only outpost of modern medicine for hundreds of miles around. Tanzing was
the administrative center of Palpa District and the site of a military garrison. The
regions hill tracks converged there, making it an important center for transshipment
and trade. But it was a small town by any standard and completely lacked modern amenities,
including electricity. When the British traveler John Morris saw it in 1960, he said it
was the most unattractive town he had seen in all of Nepal: "a scruffy little place,
a huddle of tin-roofed shacks and shops." For Iwamura and Fumiko, Tanzing would be
home for eighteen years.
The mission hospital in Tanzing, known as Shanabhawn Hospital after the
family who had donated the land, was Iwamuras base. Here he presided over a
tuberculosis (TB) clinic and a fifty-bed TB ward. An electric generator powered a single
precious X-ray machine. TB was rampant in the area, as a door-to-door survey he performed
upon arriving amply demonstrated. Ten percent of the people were infected. Iwamura was
soon examining forty to fifty patients a day in his clinic. He found many of them already
too sick to be treated effectively. His hospital ward was constantly overflowing. To cope
with the demand, Iwamura devised a system that he called "teaching treatment."
Patients were permitted to remain in the TB ward for only six months. During this time,
Iwamura treated them with medications and taught them how to medicate themselves when they
left the hospital, as well as how to monitor their symptoms. After six months, he sent
them home with a supply of medicine and instructions to get plenty of rest and to come
back for a check-up and additional medicine in three months time.
This system relieved some of the pressure on Iwamuras TB ward and
permitted him to treat a wider sample of the affected population. But he knew that even
his most efficient and backbreaking efforts at the hospital in Tanzing could not really
contain the territorys raging TB cases, not to mention the legions of other diseases
that plagued rural Nepalis. Nor was there any hope in sight that the countrys
primitive-to-nonexistent health care system would be substantially upgraded any time soon.
Moreover, as a public health doctor, he knew well that the source of many of the
regions common scourges lay in its filthy villages where the simplest sanitary and
hygienic precautions were unknown. With all of this in mind, Iwamura began to experiment
with a system that would extend rudimentary health awareness into the villages themselves.
He began with a simple outreach program. Ranging into the hills around
Tanzing with an X-ray machine strapped to the back of a pony and living for extended
periods in this village or that, Iwamura familiarized himself with the conditions and
lifeways of Nepals rural people. As he treated legions of ailments using supplies
from his medical kit, he also instructed his hosts in rudimentary environmental
cleanliness and other simple health matters. The kindness and honesty of the people he met
made a powerful impression on him. He likes to tell the story of the Nepalese porter,
himself a poor man, who "appeared out of nowhere" and volunteered to carry a
sick elderly woman to the mission hospital, a three-day walk away. The porter refused the
slightest payment, saying, "I have my youth. The grandmother does not have it. I
share my strength with her." Iwamura vowed as he worked among the people not to
undermine the good values in their traditional culture. It was their health habits and
lives of poverty that he strove to change.
Iwamura began to recruit individuals in the villages to serve as rural
public health workers. He looked for clever menmen explicitly, to exploit their
higher social statuswho were already respected by their neighbors. Scattered about
the hills, he discovered quite a few men who had been trained as medics while serving in
Gurkha units of the British army. They were ideal for his purposes. But he also recruited
traditional herbalists and healers, or younger members of their families, for he
discovered that they too made excellent village "doctors." Iwamura developed his
network one village at a time. When a potential health worker was identified, Iwamura
personally traveled to his village and spent two weeks training him, observing his
progress, and watching for signs that the villagers accepted him. "When I saw that
people respected him," he says, "my work was finished and I could return to
Tanzing." Although the process was painstakingly slow, it had the merit of
demonstrating to villagers that their local health worker had the backing of "the
mission doctor" and, through him, access to the resources of the fabled hospital in
In the initial and subsequent training sessions for village health
workers, Iwamura says, "We taught them basic medicine." They learned to treat
wounds and common ailments and to diagnose conditions that required the services of a real
doctor. They learned to make use of locally available herbal medicines. They also learned
to assist Iwamura in medical procedures when he made the rounds in the villages. Most
importantly, however, they learned to make their villages healthier places to live in.
Through Iwamura, the health workers learned to improve the village water supply and water
drainage systems and to spread habits of household and personal cleanliness. Most
significantly, they taught villagers to construct and use toilets. At the time, virtually
no household in the hinterland possessed any sanitary facilities whatsoever. People
deposited their daily wastes hither and yon, inadvertently leaving them to be dispersed
into the water and food supply by rainfall and the regions ubiquitous flies. Iwamura
believed this one factor to be the single greatest source of illness in the countryside.
The toilets that his village "doctors" introduced were simple in the extreme.
They consisted of three holes in the ground covered by wooden lids. The holes prevented
runoff; the lids kept flies away. This, says Iwamura, was a beautiful application of
Over many years, Iwamura expanded his network of rural agents to over
fifty outlying villages, some of them as far away as five days travel on foot from
Tanzing. In this way, basic health services and health awareness were made accessible to
some two hundred thousand people. In time, working through his stalwart health workers,
Iwamura also introduced livelihood projects and village cooperatives throughout the area.
As Iwamura threw himself passionately into this project, Fumiko looked
after the couples growing Nepali family. She and Iwamura had decided at the outset
of their marriage to have no children of their own; his exposure to radiation from the
atomic bomb made Iwamura fear that any children he had would be deformed. Instead, the
couple established a small home for orphans called Okachan, an expression used by Nepali
children to mean mother. Okachan was really an integral part of their own household in
Tanzing; there the Iwamuras raised twelve Nepali children, six boys and six girls. Some of
these children had lost their parents to TB and other illnesses, but most had been
orphaned because of road accidents. The government was building a road to connect Tanzing
to the lowlands just south of the town and from there to India. Cut crudely into the
hillsides and prone to mud slides, it was a treacherous route that soon claimed many
victims. Some of the children orphaned by such accidents became part of the Okachan
The daily burden of raising the children fell primarily on Fumiko, of
course, since Iwamura spent so much time in the hinterlands. She and her husband nurtured
the Nepali identities of the children and, as they matured, steered them to viable
vocations in the local economy such as farming, cooking, and motor mechanics. Some of the
girls attended college and became nurses and community development workers. The eldest,
Purneema Gurung, for example, studied nursing in India and later established a nursing
facility in Kathmandu for patients recovering from operations. The Iwamuras legally
adopted two of the girls, Maya and Habitri, and eventually took them home to Japan. But
Iwamura likes to point out that even they have remained very much Nepali at heart.
For readers back in Japan, Iwamura chronicled his and Fumikos
life and work in Tanzing in three books. A Hospital on a Mountain was first in
1965, followed by Blue Sky of Nepal in 1975, and A Message from the Himalayas to
Japan in 1976.
In 1978, the government of Nepal reassigned Iwamura to Kathmandu and
asked him to expand his public health initiatives to other areas and to train Nepali
doctors to do the work that he was doing. He, Fumiko, and the twelve children moved en
masse to the capital. Iwamura threw himself into identifying and training rural
"doctors" in two new territories: one centered at Gurkha, the site of a United
Mission branch hospital some eighty kilometers north of Kathmandu; the other in the very
remote hill country around Okhaldunga, an outpost 120 kilometers east of the capital. This
endeavor met with great success and, in about two years, he had rooted the program in some
fifty villages in each area.
Iwamura"s efforts to recruit Nepali doctors to the cause of rural
public health met with less success, however. He had been trying to do so for many years.
But as a matter of course, Nepali doctors came from the countrys elite. Even though
their families wealth was often based on ownership of rural farming lands, they
themselves scorned the countrysideeven that of Kathmandu Valley, let alone the
primitive hills. As graduates of Indian and British medical schools, they looked forward
to lucrative practices in the capital. When obliged to go to rural areas with him, Iwamura
says, they complained of the rough life and the interminable walking. Soon they pleaded,
"Please, give us permission to go back to Kathmandu."
But Iwamura did find some kindred spirits. One of these was Firman
Shah, the headmaster of Kathmandu School. It was at Kathmandu School that children of
Nepals wealthy families prepared for college and professional training abroad. When
Shah observed that graduates of his own school showed so little inclination for service,
he himself decided to set the example. Leaving his position, he went to India to attend
medical school. When he returned as a doctor, he joined forces with Iwamura in promoting
rural health. Together they worked to foster a higher standard for public service in the
practice of medicinein other words, says Iwamura, to find and encourage
doctors who work for people, not for money."
Through all his years in Nepal, Iwamura struggled with chronic
leukemia. When it flared up, blood would appear in his urine and he would require a blood
transfusion to arrest the condition. After a particularly alarming episode in 1980, the
medical officer of the Japan Overseas Christian Cooperative Society concluded that Iwamura
could no longer live safely in Nepal. He was evacuated to Japan where doctors attempted to
treat his condition with a bone marrow graft. But no match could be found. Fortunately,
with transfusions and rest, he recovered and since then his condition has been under
control. He could not return to Nepal, however.
Instead, Iwamura accepted a professorship at the Kobe University School
of Medicine, where for five years he was affiliated with the International Center for
Medical Cooperation. While teaching epidemiology at the university, Iwamura traveled
widely throughout the developing world, often in connection with World Health Organization
projects or fact-finding missions. "I went to almost all of Asia, Africa, and Central
and South America," he says, "researching the present medical situation."
Then, from 1985 to 1987, Iwamura was affiliated with the ASEAN (Association for Southeast
Asian Nations) Training Center for Primary Health Care in Thailand, where he served as
local team leader for the Japan International Cooperative Agency (JICA).
These valuable experiences confirmed Iwamuras perception that the
cruel cycle of poverty, disease, and ignorance that bound generation after generation of
Nepali hill folk to lives of unremitting hardship was repeated virtually everywhere in the
developing world. In Asia alone, hundreds of millions of peoplefarmers, fisherfolk,
and urban slum dwellers alikewere trapped in a pattern of self-perpetuating
destitution. At the same time, living side by side with these legions of the poor were
Asian communities of great wealth. Everyday, he observed, the gap between the poor and the
rich grew wider. This, in turn, led to the social unrest and political turbulence that
often plagued the region. Meanwhile, standing aloof from all of this was Asias
richest and technologically most advanced society: his own country, Japan. What sort of
contribution, he asked himself, could the Japanese make to break the poverty cycle that
inflicted so many of their neighbors?
In thinking about this question, Iwamuras vast experience at the
grassroots taught him to "think small." He had long ago imbibed the admonition
of Chinas early guru of rural reconstruction James Yen*, and his Filipino disciple
Dr. Juan Flavier, to "go to the people. Start with what the people know."
(Iwamura had met both men during his Nepal days when he attended a seminar on appropriate
technology at Yens Philippine-based International Institute for Rural
Reconstruction* [IIRR], which Flavier led.) And Iwamura knew from his own experience that
change, although it can be promoted from the outside, must always be executed and
sustained from the insidein individual villages, neighborhoods, and towns. Moreover,
self-reliance must be the goal of any effective development program. Failure to understand
this, he believed, had led to the failure of many lavishly funded, top-down aid plans.
Outside experts were not the answer; local leaders were.
With all this in mind, in 1981 Iwamura launched the Peace, Health and
Human Development Foundation, or the PHD Foundation for short. The foundations motto
was "Living is sharing," and its goal was to mobilize Japanese time, skills,
knowledge, and money for joint efforts in promoting self-reliant development in grassroots
communities around Asia. The program was both modest and practical. Each year, with the
assistance of trusted partner organizations in recipient countries, the foundation
identified three or four young people for training in Japan. Each trainee was selected on
the basis of his or her potential to introduce useful new ideas and technologies into his
or her community, and the commitment to do so.
In the early years, Iwamura made the final selection of PHD trainees
himself. The trainees were brought to Japan and, after a brief language course, were
assigned to instructors and host families with whom they spent the rest of the year.
Generally speaking, female trainees were assigned to weavers and tailors, males to organic
farmers. To Iwamura, organic farming was particularly suitable for rural development
because it did not require expensive, debt-inducing inputs such as fertilizers and
pesticides and it helped to preserve and enhance the natural habitat. Moreover,
organically grown foods were healthy. Some trainees also learned how to cultivate fish in
fishponds and how to raise pigs and poultry. Although they struggled with the language,
the trainees tended to thrive anyway. They "learned by doing," Iwamura says.
Nestor Servando was a typical PHP trainee. A twenty-seven-year-old
farmer from Negros Island, Philippines, he spent a year working with Japanese organic
farmer Shogo Watanabe on his farm in the mountains of Hyogo Prefecture, north of Kobe.
:Many Negros farmers work at sugarcane, pineapple, or other fruit plantations when they
are free from their own farmwork," he says. "They spend all their wages on
chemical fertilizers and insecticides for their farms." Thus, although they worked
hard and had access to land, their economic lives did not improve. Servando saw organic
farming as one route out of this kind of structural poverty.
Iwamura funded the PHP Foundation by collecting membership fees from
some two thousand supporters, mainly in Hyogo Prefecture, and donations from Christian
churches. During the traineeships, he encouraged the donors, and other Japanese, to
participate in personal exchanges with the trainees in order to familiarize themselves
with the life circumstances of many of Japans near neighbors. He wanted them to have
"a deeper understanding of the actual relationship between Japan and these societies.
As for the trainees, they visited Hiroshima and other Japanese sites and made a side trip
to South Korea, where farmers struggled in a transitional economy similar to that of some
of their own countries. Following the initial year of formal training, the PHD Foundation
provided hands-on follow-up support for its trainees as they applied their new knowledge
at home. In the fifth year, it conducted an evaluation of the trainees success.
After launching the PHD Foundation, Iwamura entrusted its day-to-day
management to the Reverend Kenichi Kusachi, who continues to lead it today. In the many
years since it was founded, PHD has trained over thirty farmers, fisherfolk, and social
workers from Nepal, Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines.
Shortly after establishing the PHD Foundation, Iwamura initiated a
second and very different sort of program, this one for Japanese youths. While living in
Nepal, he had made the acquaintance of a Mr. Inamura, a young Japanese mountain climber
and adventurer who operated a hostel for Japanese climbers. Iwamura recruited Inamura as a
volunteer to help introduce innovative appropriate technologies to hill villages. He
noticed that Inamura was particularly adept at working with children. Some years later,
when both men were back in Japan, Iwamura approached Inamura with the idea of taking
Japanese children to Nepal for short nature trips during their school holidays. Thus was
born the Shizen Juku, or the Asian Nature School, in 1983.
Every September and October thereafter, Inamura led groups of grammar
school children on weeklong hiking and camping expeditions in the Nepalese highlands.
Inamura followed no set curriculum but encouraged the children to follow their own
curiosity. However, he taught them to respect the fragile environment they were passing
through. It was a rule, for example, that no trees should be cut to make campfires;
instead, the children planted trees and, for their evening campfires, they gathered dried
twigs and branches from the ground. The young campers were also required to carry their
own tents and utensils and taught to respect the local porters who carried their food and
other gear. In these ways, Iwamura hoped to instill in Japanese children not only a love
for nature and for Japans neighbors but also respect for the humanity of poor
people. He says that when the little campers receive gifts from their barefoot Nepali
porters at journeys endsmall personal items such as a bracelet or
earringit is a powerful and memorable lesson.
Still grappling with the problem of leadership for community
development, Iwamura founded yet another organization in 1985. Whereas the PHD Foundation
concentrated on identifying and training village-level community leaders, the new one
focused on the need for committed and well-trained individuals who could formulate and
guide development projects and programs. By this time, Iwamura notes, international
development agencies had long since discovered Nepal. There were dozens of donor agencies
with offices in Kathmandu, each one looking for good projects to support. Yet one after
the other, the projects they funded "failed, failed, failed," he says. He
believes this happened because there were too few Nepali development workers with the
skills and wisdom necessary to execute them. This insight became the basis for
Iwamuras new International Human Resources Institute (Kokusai Jinzai Kaihatsu Kikoh)
IHI (pronounced "eye-high") was similar to Iwamuras PHD
program. Individuals would be recruited from Asias developing countries and trained
to become more effective leaders. In the IHI program, however, Iwamura targeted college
graduates who had already demonstrated commitment and promise working in nongovernmental
organizations (NGOs). IHIs mission was to provide these individuals the opportunity
for advanced training in community development.
When Iwamura wondered just how to go about doing this, he thought of
his Nepalese adopted daughter, Uma Gurung. Some years back, Uma had been awarded a
scholarship to earn a masters degree at the University of the Philippines in Quezon
City. Before entering the university, however, she attended a short course at the
International Institute of Rural Reconstruction in nearby Cavite, similar to the one that
Iwamura himself had taken earlier. Iwamura wrote ahead and asked Susan Flavier, the wife
of IIRR?s director Juan Flavier, to look after Uma, since this was her first time abroad.
Umas happy experience at IIRR paved the way for her success as a graduate student at
the university. She later returned to Nepal and, with her husband, established a community
development center. Iwamura adopted exactly this protocol for IHIs fellows. Provided
with scholarships and living expenses for two and a half years, they would go first to
IIRR for orientation and next to the University of the Philippines for a masters
degreeeither at the College of Social Work and Community Development in Quezon City,
or the College of Agriculture in Los Baņos.
For IHI, Iwamura recruited a board of trustees made up of
internationally oriented Japanese NGO and business leaders, scholars, and public
officials. Juan Flavier became an adviser, as did Krasae Chanawongse* of Thailand. Like
Iwamura himself, both Flavier and Krasae were doctors who had dedicated their careers to
extending medical care and material upliftment to rural Asians. As with the PHD
Foundation, Iwamura funded IHI through memberships and donations. Since its establishment,
eighteen individuals have been recipients of IHI scholarships, most of them Filipinos, but
also Nepalis, Thais, and a few Japanese. (Japanese IHI fellows pay their own expenses.) As
Iwamura hoped, the graduates are now all working for development agencies such as the
United Nations Childrens Fund, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United
Nations, or for NGOs in Asia. He is very proud of them. One IHI alumnus, he noted
recently, now works in an area of southern Philippines torn by strife between Muslims and
Christians and where, for years, government soldiers have engaged in bloody clashes with
local guerrillas. Due to his patient fostering of community accord, says Iwamura, for
three years now there has been no violence in his area. Victories like this confirm
Iwamuras belief in IHIs mission.
These days, sixty-six-year-old Iwamura lives in Miki City. Neither he
nor Fumiko is strong anymore. He has retired as chairman of both the PHD Foundation and
the Asian Nature School, although their work goes on. But he still teaches part-time at
Kanzai Womens College in Miki and, once or twice a week, makes the three-hour
commute into Kobe to lecture at Nihon Fukushi University. And he is still actively
involved in IHI. Today, most of the work is handled by his brother-in-law, F. Tsukakoshi,
a retired businessman who says frankly that Iwamura has no head for figures. (Iwamura
agrees and says that, in the family, Fumiko has always been "minister of home
finance." She determines, for example, how much the frugal couple can afford to
contribute to PHD and IHI each year.) As IHIs chairman, however, Iwamura presides
over the organizations regular board meetings and other important gatherings. And
six or seven times a year, he travels throughout the country to speak before Rotary Clubs,
Lions Clubs, and other groups to promote IHIs work and to raise funds.
"This is my present job," he says. Most of IHIs 750 or so contributors are
older individuals with disposable incomes. Some are perhaps prompted to give in order to
make amends for Japans behavior in World War II. But most are inspired by
Iwamuras own example and message. He guides their philanthropy.
Noboru Iwamura is still disturbed by Japans aloofness. Even now,
he says, "The Japanese are very isolated. They dont know what is happening in
Asia." So in his own modest way, Iwamura carries on. He knows that his message is not
one that all Japanese are ready to hear: Japan must share with its neighbors. Rich and
poor, we live together in Asia.
Ishihara, Yoshiko. "Farm Program Attacks Poverty Head On." Japan
Times, 26 February 1993.
Iwamura, Noboru. Interview by James R. Rush. Tape recording. Ramon
Magsaysay Award Foundation, Manila, September 1993.
______. "Opening a Window to the World: Linking Japanese
Philanthropy to Its Asian Neighbors." Paper presented at Awardees Forum, Ramon
Magsaysay Award Foundation, Manila, 1 September 1993.
Encyclopedia of Asian History. New York: Charles
Scribners Sons, 1988.
Morris, John. A Winter in Nepal. London: Rupert Hart-Davis,
Ministry of Defence. Nepal and the Gurkhas. London: Her
Majestys Stationery Office, 1965.
Ministry of Planning and Development, Government of Nepal. Nepal at
a Glance. Nepal: Publicity Department, Government of Nepal, 1954.
Protacio, Antonio L. "A Doctors Odyssey from Hiroshima to
the Himalayas." Philippine Daily Inquirer, 12 September 1993.
Various interviews and correspondence with persons familiar with Dr. Noboru Iwamura and
his work; other primary documents.