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An Unforgettable Conference Experience in Japan
an interview with LLLI co-Founder Mary Ann Kerwin

Toshi Jolliffe
Heisdorf, Luxembourg
From: Leaven, Vol. 44, No. 4, 2008, pp. 16-17

LLL Japan enthusiastically welcomed Mary Ann Kerwin, LLLI co-Founder, as a guest speaker at the Area Conference in Tokyo on August 23-24, 2008. I was privileged to serve as her session interpreter and also to work with Mary Ann's daughter, Katie Kerwin McCrimmon, as the editor of her speech. There were about 600 Conference attendees. Throughout this event, Mary Ann and I shared the same feeling: we are glad to be in LLL! I have attended several Conferences in the past, and Mary Ann has been to many more. However, we both agreed that this Conference was something special. Shortly after the closing ceremony, I interviewed Mary Ann. Let me share our pleasant memories of this Conference.

Toshi: The Conference has just ended, and I can still feel everyone's excitement.

Mary Ann: This certainly was one of the most impressive Area Conferences I ever attended. Everything was well organized and every single moment of this Conference was awesome for me. I worked with, talked with, and observed so many mothers who have become empowered in ways I admire. These women obviously are intelligent, diplomatic, resourceful, caring, loving, and dedicated as well as strong and determined.

Toshi: When your taxi was arriving at the Conference center, the Leader who accompanied you called us so that we could all line up at the entrance holding "welcome flags," which children had made at a workshop.

Mary Ann: Oh, that was lovely indeed. I felt at home right away!

Toshi: I have been privileged to work closely with you in the past few months. We opened the Conference with the memorial ceremony for Edwina. Rebecca Sato, LLL Tokyo West, Japan, an operatic soprano, sang "I Am a Thousand Winds." On Leaders' Day some people displayed the photos of loved ones who had passed away. We truly appreciated having the photo of your baby Joseph.

Mary Ann: Toshi, I feel equally privileged to have worked closely with you in preparation for this Conference. Opening with the beautiful memorial service honoring Edwina especially touched me. I could feel her presence among us. I also was grateful that you asked me to bring a photo of my deceased son, Joseph. My family keeps him alive in our memories. The closing ceremony was impressive, and I enjoyed the Japanese version of "LLL is 50 years old!" (see Leaven, Issue 1, 2008, page 14) with beautiful pictures.

Toshi: This was a bilingual Conference, and most of the sessions and ceremonies were interpreted into English or Japanese.

Mary Ann: This is something else that impressed me greatly. The interpreting service was very efficient, and it is amazing that all the interpreters were LLL Leaders in Japan!

Toshi: There were several different buildings separate from each other, and we had to walk outside in the rain. I hope you did not find it too difficult.

Mary Ann: I thought the Olympic Center provided an excellent venue for the Conference. The location of this center is very accessible in Tokyo. Also it offers all the needed services and facilities. Among other things, it was helpful to have the umbrellas they provide at the entrance of each building: when it rained, I could pick up one umbrella, free of charge, and return it at another buildng's entrance as I arrived. What an effective system!

Toshi: As soon as your session, "Breastfeeding: Love That Lasts a Lifetime," started, I felt the audience's intense attention. I am glad I was right beside you and felt your support in order to be confident enough to smile at many participants! There were several sessions all together. Were there some sessions that particularly interested you?

Mary Ann: Dr. Jack Newman's sessions were very informative. He is among the best medical proponents of breastfeeding in the world today. Dr. Newman clearly and graphically presented important information on the health benefits and the essentials of breastfeeding. He included information that was especially helpful about how to help breastfeeding mothers and LLL Leaders deal with latch problems, now a relatively common challenge to breastfeeding.

Toshi: You also attended the two symposiums organized by Japanese Leaders.

Mary Ann: Yes, they were outstanding. During the mothering symposium, the Leaders shared their personal experiences. Their words were sincere and touched many participants' hearts. It was also nice to see the Leaders' children going up on the stage in order to speak as Leaders' children.

The symposium about weaning was memorable! Many participants were eager to comment, and some of them cried while explaining their experiences to the audience. It shows that they felt totally at home and free to express what they wanted to say. Dr. Jack Newman mentioned that it was like a large Series Meeting. What a compliment!

Toshi: During the Conference preparation, you mentioned meeting Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko of Japan in the USA. Would you please tell me more about that?

Mary Ann: I went to Barat College of the Sacred Heart in Lake Forest, Illinois, USA. There are affiliated schools in Japan: Seishin Convent School of the Sacred Heart and Sacred Heart University, which Empress Michiko attended. Because of my affiliation with the international Sacred Heart Schools, I had the distinct honor of being invited to have tea with Empress Michiko while she and the Emperor were visiting the USA in 1994. The Empress was very gracious, kind, and thoughtful.

Toshi: I imagine you were excited!

Mary Ann: Yes, I was extremely excited to have an opportunity to meet Empress Michiko. My friends and I greatly appreciated her thoughtfulness in inviting us to tea. Empress Michiko surprised us by taking time to talk with each of us in fluent English. After visiting awhile, with a twinkle in her eye, the Empress asked us if we would like to meet "someone else." We guessed that she meant Emperor Akihito and said, "With our pleasure." Then, she came back with him. Emperor Akihito had been standing around the corner as if he were hiding, and Empress Michiko brought him out as a surprise, although most of us knew who might be coming out!

Toshi: That is an impressive experience, Mary Ann. Your story has just reminded me of what happened to my parents many years ago. The royal wedding of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, Crown Prince and Princess at that time, took place four days before I was born in April 1959. My parents did not have TV at that time, but my mother wanted to watch it. Since I was nearly on the way, my father did not want to take her out to a crowded café and decided to buy their first TV for my mother. However, the house became crowded because all the neighbors came to watch the royal wedding on my parents' brand new TV.

Mary Ann: What a delightful story, Toshi!

Toshi: Empress Michiko was the first commoner to enter the Japanese royal family. Some people consider that she brought fresh air into the royal household. For instance, when her first baby, now the Crown Prince, was a few months old, Michiko wished to have her own kitchen so that she could prepare solids for the baby. Although a princess or an empress had never needed her own kitchen, they built one especially for Michiko in the Crown Prince's Palace. Also, in the past, royal babies were traditionally looked after by more than one nanny, and they were separated from the parents at a very young age. However, Empress Michiko wished to breastfeed and keep her babies with her, and Emperor Akihito supported her wish. Thus, Empress Michiko breastfed all three of their children, and they stayed with the parents. In that sense, Empress Michiko may be a royal example of The Revolutionaries Wore Pearls.

Mary Ann: Thank you for sharing the story about Empress Michiko. That explains a lot about her warmth and strength of character that all the guests felt at the party. If I had another opportunity to meet with her, I am sure that we would enjoy talking about parenting and LLL Japan!

Toshi: I have been wondering what made this Conference so special. Everybody seems to have enjoyed it! I hope that you also had a wonderful time with us.

Mary Ann: Oh, it was fantastic to be at this Conference! I believe the excellent coordination by the Area Conference Team made a tremendous difference. I could tell that all had given so much time and energy toward making this event successful. As I said earlier, I worked with and met many empowered women who in turn empowered me. Congratulations on achieving your goal and thank you for inviting me as a guest speaker. I shall always remember how much LLL Japan welcomed me and how much I enjoyed this experience! LLL Japan will always hold a special place in my heart. Domo Arigato (thank you very much)!


Bilingual audio speech is available at:

Breastfeeding: Love That Lasts a Lifetime
By Mary Ann Kerwin, LLL Founder
From 2008 Japan Area Conference

http://www.llljapan.com/education/podcast/MAKinLLLJapan2stconf.mp3

Special thanks to LLL Japan for offering the URL, and to Rieko Sannomiya, Web site Technical Administrator of LLL Japan, for uploading the podcast.

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