Eye Can See, Eye Can Help

Saya Iwasaki
8 min readDec 6, 2017


This is an Introduce Yourself post that originally appeared on Steemit.com, a social network site built on the blockchain.

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!

Business Visa-on-Arrival in Myanmar, 2017

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

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.

Block 1

Hash wHenL1feGiv3syOuLemOn5

“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.

Drumcan baths…

Life was strange 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 drumcans 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.

…and bougie sports

I was very privileged to have experienced living in different places, and be able to write about it here. It used to make me feel guilty, having this access without knowing what to do with it. Only in my latter 20s did I embrace my experiences because guilt rejects the uniqueness you were blessed with. Humility welcomes it so that you can serve others in your own special 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.

Block 2

Hash sTartM4kinGl3moNade

“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 children’s storybook writer. 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 I was working with a multilingual preschool and primary school, I taught art alongside operating the school, and began helping out with things they weren’t savvy with. Like graphic design.

It started out poorly. This is a then & now of my illustrative journey.

Eh, Close enough in 2012 vs. I made that!? in 2017

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 need 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 the most. And then one day, graphic design wasn’t enough because I could only make things look good. By good fate, I came across learning design and dove in head first. 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 cool to start at zero and build up from what you already have. We all do it, but we just forget. Case point A, I just joined Steemit and other blockchain sites as a n00b but I’m doing it anyways!

Block 3

Hash mAke5ure2dR1nKitG00d

“Stay Curious, Stay Seeing”

A big 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.

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 to make sure my eyes didn’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 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 because 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 mysterious 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 during checkups. But now, it has a name, which makes it feel much too real.

A Pretty Microscopic View of Corneal Dystrophy.

It turns out that my form of Corneal Dystrophy is an autosomal recessive genetic disorder. Less than 0.5% of the global population has it and it clouds your eyes. In the cases that I’ve read online (there’s not much), you could go blind by the third decade of your life. 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 though, 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 back then, hoping that what I offer can continue to 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!

This article was originally posted on Steemit.


You can view the rest of my design work here. I’d love to hear from you!



Saya Iwasaki

Always curious, always writing. Culture, Belonging and People Growth at @doordash. Formerly @bitski. MA @stanfordEd.