Disaster-affected kids arrive in Italy, Hawaii

Kyodo

Dozens of Japanese children affected by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami disaster and subsequent nuclear crisis will be spending their summer abroad this year, ranging from home-stays in Italy to educational programs in Hawaii, thanks to a global outpouring of support.

On Wednesday, 35 children mainly from the Tohoku region who temporarily fell ill after radiation leaked from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant arrived in Rome to stay with host families in the Italian capital and other cities until the end of August.

Under the project named “Kibo (Hope) Japan,” travel expenses for the children, aged 5 to 12 and mainly from Fukushima Prefecture, were partially covered by donations raised in Japan. Expenses for travel in Italy, accommodation and meals will be covered by an Italian nonprofit organization.

“I bottled up my stress after the accident. I look forward to playing soccer,” said Miyu Sato, 11, a boy from Date, Fukushima Prefecture, who will be staying in Terni in central Italy.

Another participant, Yume Noguchi, 11, of Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, will stay in the southern city of Bari.

“I want to play outside as much as I like and I want to eat delicious foods,” she said.

Her remark came as elevated radiation levels found in soil and air in Fukushima have forced many parents and schools to limit the amount of time children are allowed to play outdoors. Concerns about tainted food have also been exacerbated by the discovery that radioactive beef has been shipped across Japan.

The project is the brainchild of Aki Fujiwara, 36, a Saitama Prefecture native who lives in Rubiera in northern Italy. Fujiwara contacted the Italian NPO and others after hearing about a program that invited children to Italy after they were affected by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident.

Fujiwara also asked for cooperation from the Sapporo-based group Chernobyl e no Kakehashi (A Bridge to Chernobyl), which offered support in selecting eligible children and raising funds.

Half-way across the globe, 20 children who lost family members and friends in the disaster were greeted with Hawaiian leis after they landed at Honolulu International Airport on Wednesday for a nine-day “Rainbow for Japan Kids” healing and educational program.

The initiative, sponsored by companies and individuals in Hawaii and Japan, is aimed at helping the children recuperate from their emotional wounds through exploring Hawaii’s natural beauty, engaging in group activities such as camping and cultural programs, and by interacting with local children. Professional counselors will also be available.

Edwin Hawkins, president of the Japan-America Society of Hawaii, said the program will continue over the long term and take place about three times a year, apparently referring to the summer, winter and spring vacation periods.