I’m Saya Iwasaki and I’m sitting in my parent’s open kitchen in Myanmar as the sun sets.
By the time I finish this post, I’m sure it’ll already be deep into the night — not because I'm writing endlessly, but because I’m probably going to spend an hour wondering if a sentence needs an Oxford comma or not, and then spend another hour reading through 50 articles dating back from 2008, including a post from a user named purplewizard on Yahoo Answers, who never confirmed whether he really found the answer he was looking for, consequently leaving people like us in 2017 wondering what happened to our comma-rade.*
My craft is design, specifically empowerment design. I design processes, systems, information and experiences that empower people to actively participate in change — whether it’s organizational, civic or personal — by lowering the barrier of entry to participation.
For example, graphics like like this!
Or alternatively, creating an easier way for teachers in emerging economies to create learner-centered curriculums without requiring a “first-world” education background.
This passion of mine has evolved over the years, only with the realization this year that maybe I’ve wanted to do something like this all along but had to experience the twists and turns of my life to bring it all together. Therefore, if you’d like to read why I do what I do, I’ve written a brief history of my life using the blockchain as a literary structure (I know, I know, it may not be true to form but bear with me, it’s an artistic thing).
If you’re like, TL;WR (pics below!): I’m passionate about the work I currently do because of what I have experienced throughout my life, and learning that real equity can exist only when people give each other a seat at the table. And for that, humility, self-belief and the willingness to be open are just three of many things that are important.
“Learning To Say Thank You, Not I’m Sorry”
Most of my childhood was spent in New York, Japan, the Republic of Congo, France and Myanmar. My dad’s work happily (and rather, sometimes unhappily) took us through cosmopolitan cities, a conflict zone, pastoral fields and a military dictatorship.
Life was weird though. We’ve always lived a humble life that equally resided within an opulent realm depending on how you saw it. My first baths were in drum cans heated over a wooden fire; but we lived in a protected compound. When I was 6-months-old, my parents spent three days in a dark, dirty hotel room in Congo, holding my bare body against theirs to get rid of my measles because they had just arrived to the country and there was no doctor within miles; but they knew the basic holistic practices to cure me and I survived unlike the other 500,000 children with measles that year. I’ve had a maggot live in my forehead; but it wasn’t my entire body for weeks on end.
Drum can baths and bougie sports
I was very privileged to have experienced living in different countries, and be able to write about it here. It used to make me feel guilty to have been given this access without knowing what to do with it. Only in my latter 20s did I embrace my experiences because my past came together to define the work that I do. Guilt rejects the unique life you were blessed with. Humility helps you embrace it so that you can serve others in a very YOU way. Being humble helps you sit down so that others can shine.
When I sum up my life experiences, I have nothing to complain about because everything I have gone through and not gone through have built my perspective, character and community. So much so, that the only thing I can say is thank you, not sorry.
“Finding My Thing”
Alex Palmer © 2012
When I had just graduated from college in New York in 2012, I was very lost. I had wanted to stay in New York City to be an au pair and live the post-college dream as a struggling artist (what kind, I had no idea yet). Through short conversations with my mom over expensive phone calls, she convinced me to go home to Myanmar for a bit. Since the majority of my life had been spent in Myanmar, I was pretty wary of the idea.
However, 2012 was when the country was beginning its shift into democracy after decades of military rule. Ultimately, the opportunity to live through a political change overpowered the smaller American luxuries that I’d have to give up. Since my family runs a multilingual preschool and primary school, I began helping out part-time with things they weren’t savvy with. Like graphic design.
It started out poorly. This is a before & after from one of my first graphics to my later illustrations.
The point is, when I started, I was way behind compared to my designer friends but I was having fun. It was easy for me to pick up the art and spend hours trying to figure out how to make something look like what I envisioned. After my mom saw my designs, she asked me why I wasn’t pursuing this more. I told her that it was too easy, that I needed something more challenging to feel like I was achieving something.
Bluntly, she said, “Sometimes the things that come easy to you are the things you should be doing more of.”
Inspired a little by her words, I started pitching people that I’d design a logo for them for 50$. I was refused. 5$. Refused. So I started making free things.
Then, I got my first contract for 100$. Those multiple hundred dollar contracts became 500$. That 500$ because 1000$. Without realizing it, I was funding my own lifestyle by doing what I enjoyed. And then graphic design wasn’t enough because I could only make things look good. So I dove into learning design. And a whole new world opened up, where all of a sudden, what I was good at could help others be better at what they wanted to be.
A workshop at Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center and a process map
It’s nice to start at zero and build up from what you already have. Case point A, I’m on Steemit and I’m a n00b but I’m jumping in!
“Stay Curious, Stay Seeing”
The whole reason I’m writing this post is to introduce myself, but also to take a step forward and share my story with the hope that conversations will spark. I was really triggered to do this when I found out last week that I had an extremely rare case of Corneal Dystrophy (Gelatinous Droplike Corneal Dystrophy to be exact).
Braces, Skin & Bones and Bad eyes = very awkward tweenager
I had known my whole life that something was wrong with my eyes. I’ve been to countless eye doctors in the US, Japan and Myanmar since I was 5-years-old. In the first grade, I was in and out of school often for recurring pink eye. One time, my dad had to withdraw pus from both my eyelids with a syringe because there were no eye specialists in Myanmar that could handle my case. I remember being held down, screaming, as my eyelids were alleviated. It sounds traumatic, but really, my parents had to do what they had to do within their best ability so that my eyes wouldn't suffer. My eyes continued to get worse over the years, with no diagnosis or cure in sight. During one visit to one of the the best corneal specialists in Japan, the doctor said: I have no idea what this is and there is nothing I can do. If it gets worse and she can’t see, she’ll need a corneal transplant.
When we met my current doctor, he knew exactly what I had. His research had specifically been around my eye condition. Of all the places he could be, he was in Myanmar. I was 14-years-old, and had I gone a year after, my eyes would’ve been beyond saving. He prescribed, and continues to prescribe, me his special medicine, which have miraculously prevented my eyes from degenerating. Until last week, I called my eye thing as a “rare eye condition that gets treated by an unnamed medicine.” It has thrown many a doctors in the US off for sure.
It turns out that my form of Corneal Dystrophy is an autosomal recessive genetic disorder. 1/300,000 people in Japan have it. Less than 0.5% of the global population has it. It appears in the first decade of your life and continues to cloud your eyes. In all of the cases that I’ve read online (there’s not much), everyone goes blind by the third decade. I’m 27-years-old, and while I’m not crying on my bed fearing my life will change at 30 although the fear exists, its definitely alerted me that you are only given so much time to be able to do the things you want to do. I’ve become more aware of my computer time, of what I eat, of my medication but also of my emotions and how little room there is to let doubt, fear and negativity stop you from taking the next step. Don’t worry all, I’ve had a pretty good track record of eye recovery over the past 10 years — even my doctor is astonished — that I’m pretty sure I can turn things around.**
Which is why I’m here, bumbling my way into the world of blockchain and cryptocurrency just like I did with graphic design, hoping that what I offer can evolve into something useful for others so that we can all move forward without the doubts that have been instilled in us or that we’ve instilled in ourselves.
*Update: it took me two days. Hours for nit-picky-ness, two days to build the confidence to publish this because it’s so long and so personal.
**If there’s anyone out there living with this condition, HMU! I feel like I’m the only human actively on Google.
Thanks for reading! You can view the rest of my design work here.
Let me know if you'd like to chat about things!