For once, a refreshing story which I thought was interesting for a few reasons (aside from the title, which really floats my boat: “Japan courts Africa with a gentle touch”.) I like the idea that Japan, in trying to deepen strategic relationships with Africa, is using novel, innovative approaches. I have no doubt that other aid and diplomatic agencies also have their own unique approaches to development which challenge the modus operandi, but I really DIG the idea of having Japanese shiatsu experts train unskilled workers to offer this service.
It does fall in line with the whole skills-training, sustainable development approach of assisting individuals in learning a trade they can use for self-sustenance, a practice which I have criticized here, mostly because while the theory is great, in practice, these programs achieve very little.
However, I find it really interesting to offer unusual skills training – not only does this mean that those trained in that skill will meet less competition on the market, but also contributes to diversifying the economy AND contributes to the multifariousness and richness of societies. Indeed, if Kenyans somehow get into the habit of visiting their local shiatsu masseuse (is that the term? or shiatsu master? I have no idea), that would be a fabulous testament to the beauty of globalization.
Furthermore, I thought that the fact that this training is offered to blind women is particularly interesting – for most in the developing world, that kind of handicap can signify life long dependency and stigma. Exploring new ways to empower the most marginalized at the micro level and help them become productive, contributing members of society in innovative ways, while not the panacea of development, does provide the impetus for development practitioners to think more creatively.