Wataru Sawamura

Speech for the 21st IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award Ceremony

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is my great pleasure to welcome you today on the occasion of the presentation of the IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Awards.

First of all, I wish to congratulate the winners of the 2012 Awards—Abuelas Cuentacuentos from Argentina and SIPAR from Cambodia. I congratulate every one of you who have taken part in the activities for your outstanding efforts and offer my heartfelt gratitude to the panel of prestigious judges and those associated with IBBY for their dedication and commitment in making the final selections for the awards.

The Abuelas Cuentacuentos, or Grandmothers’ Storytelling Project in English, is based in the state of Chaco in northeastern Argentina. The project has been training women who were out of jobs to become volunteers who read books to children, giving children living in the poor regions a chance to get in touch with books and literature. It is a simple activity, but it effectively promotes the love of books and reading. And that is not all. I think it is an outstanding activity that gives added meaning and purpose to the lives of the “grandmothers” too.

SIPAR was born in Cambodia 30 years ago as a way to support Cambodian refugees who had fled the oppression of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge and were living on the Cambodian and Thai border. SIPAR began expanding its activities in the 1990s to support education. SIPAR is now involved in a wide range of activities, opening libraries and establishing a publishing division to help writers and train editors.

Both of these outstanding projects nurture sensitivity and build self-esteem in young people through reading. The projects serve major roles in helping children carve out bright futures for themselves.

The IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award was initiated in 1988 under the sponsorship of The Asahi Shimbun Newspaper Company. The Asahi Shimbun was inspired by the IBBY World Congress that was held in Japan in 1986, and was drawn to the IBBY activities. The award is given to groups and research institutions around the world for their work in distributing books and reading promotion activities among children and young people. Including this year’s two winners, The Asahi Shimbun has presented the IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotion Award to 25 programs around the world so far. We take great pride in the fact that we have been able to pay tribute to such a worthy cause, continuously, for over 20 years.

In this time of ever present TV and internet media, our ways of human expression are more diverse than ever. All the more reason then why someone like myself whose whole life revolves around the experience of the written word affirms the continuing importance of the  power of that written word, and indeed the power of books. We as journalists have seen that the creation of a peaceful society starts with the strong family ties built through something as simple as the reading of books to children.  

I would like to express our heartfelt admiration and congratulate IBBY and its supporters for their continued dedication in promoting books and bringing the joy of reading to children throughout the world. It is our sincere hope that IBBY will continue with its good work, and we look forward to seeing the activities bear ample fruit in the years to come The Asahi Shimbun is committed to providing our support to the best of our ability towards promoting books among young readers.

Lastly, after the Great East Japan Earthquake struck Japan in March 2011, we received many messages of condolence, encouragement and support. IBBY swiftly took action supporting activities to deliver books to children in disaster struck areas. The warm support that poured in from around the world gave the Japanese people courage and buoyed our spirits. I would like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude.

Thank you very much.