Seven children visiting Kona from Fukushima, Japan, expressed their thanks to the community through Japanese songs Saturday afternoon at Hualalai Academy.
The school children, ages 11 to 17, arrived in Kona on Dec. 20 for two weeks of fun and relaxation with the Fukushima Kids Hawaii Project, which strives to bring children to Hawaii for respite from radiation and promote public awareness about the effects radiation has on health, said Yumi Kukuchi, director and co-founder of the project. They spent Saturday mingling with community members and performing, as a gesture of gratitude, Japanese songs such as “The Only Flower in the World” and “Furosato,” a beloved song about “home.”
“It’s very fun,” 17-year-old Kanami Funayama, one of the children visiting from Fukushima prefecture of Japan, said via interpreter about her time in Hawaii. She is also enjoying how “different” and “hot” winter in Hawaii is compared to winter in Fukushima.
“Two and a half years have passed since the earthquake and radiation was discovered and we in Fukushima can’t live without disease or (live) a healthy life,” Emi Sasaki, the chaperone of the group, said through a translator. Fukushima was forever changed after the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and subsequent meltdown of three core reactors at the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant. “We want to thank Hawaii for bringing us over to detox from radiation.”
“Now they can go in the ocean. They can eat. They can breathe,” she added. “It’s great.”
The Fukushima Kids Welcome Festival offered the community a chance to meet the group members, learn about radiation and health, take part in Zumba fitness, listen to the visiting children singing, take-in taiko drumming, and enjoy the harmony of a flute, violin, guitar and piano performance. It also featured a magic show and silent auction to raise funds for the Fukushima Kids Hawaii Project.
Vanessa Karsin attended the event with her husband and three daughters.
“It’s about the kids. We have kids and what they’ve gone through it really got to us,” Karsin said, adding it is “heartbreaking” that children can’t play outside. “It really hit hard for us. We wanted to try to do everything we can to help.”
Fukushima Kids Hawaii Project was founded by Yumi Kikuchi and husband Gen Morita, who moved to Kona with their children from Japan in May 2011. That came after the family traveled to Okinawa, where they helped evacuate 264 pregnant women and children from Fukushima prefecture, Kikuchi said.
This Mother’s Day, Kikuchi began raising money to cover the expense of hosting children and mothers and babies from Fukushima prefecture on the Big Island. The Fukushima Kids Hawaii Project has brought 20 school children to visit the island since this summer, in addition to hosting several mothers and young children.
“We need to get as much kids out of radiation as possible,” said Kikuchi. “As a mother, I’m concerned about the kids.”
It cost about $15,000 to bring the seven children and accompanying chaperone to Kona for the two-week respite that ends Jan. 2. The money was raised through fundraisers, garage sales and donations.
However, said Kikuchi, some $2,600 of that money raised via three garage sales was apparently taken from her home in early December during an apparent burglary. Despite the loss, which the project is still fundraising to cover, Kikuchi said the children — and more to come — had to come to Hawaii for a well-deserved break.
“We are trying to get them here to have a wonderful time in Kona,” Kikuchi said, noting the project is raising money year-round to bring children to the Big Island in the summer and winter. “We are grateful to your support because without your support, we couldn’t bring them here.”
For more information or to contribute to the effort, email Kikuchi at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit fukushimakidshp.blogspot.com.