In July 2014, ten students from ages 13 to 19, along with chaperones Daniel Hwang and Wendy Lum, ventured to the northern region of Japan’s main island to reconnect with Japanese students who had participated in the Rainbow for Japan Kids (RFJK) program in Honolulu, Hawaii. This program offers Japanese children – often left homeless and even parent-less by the Great Tohoku Earthquake of March 11, 2011 – a chance to relax and recuperate, in the hopes that they will bring fonder memories back to their homes. These memories are forged by one of the program’s primary goals, which is to create lasting friendships with Hawaii children through a 2-day camp and outdoor activities that immerse Japanese kids in Hawaii’s natural beauty.
A generous grant from the TOMODACHI Initiative gave some Hawaii kids the rare opportunity to visit RFJK alumni in their hometowns and strengthen the bonds of friendship formed in Hawaii. Within their six days visiting the Tohoku region, Hawaii delegates engaged in cultural exchange activities such as performing a hula for students from Otsuchi Collaborative School, folding shopping bags out of newspapers with seniors at a temporary housing facility, and partnering with the Utatsu Sea Monkey Project to clean up debris at a beach in Minami-Sanriku. The beach cleanup stood out as a meaningful highlight for some delegates, as the chosen location was where Kai, an RFJK alumna and organizer of the cleanup, lost her mother to the March 11th tsunami. Kai’s demonstration of resilience and strength is an ideal example of how close the Hawaii delegates had become to the Japanese students in just a short span of time, an invaluable understanding Hawaii delegates could not have reached from attending the RFJK camps alone. Delegate Evan Lin commented on how it felt to experience these students’ situations firsthand: “It wasn’t until this trip that it hit me – many of these kids had their homes destroyed and family taken away. What truly touched me, though, was that these kids’ spirits were not broken.” Hawaii delegates witnessed this through the warm smiles and positive attitudes that greeted them wherever they went, making it seem like they were the ones receiving hope rather than giving it. Delegates were not only touched, but also inspired by the strength these Japanese kids have shown in the face of life-changing adversities and expressed their need to appreciate and cherish the family, friends, and homes they usually take for granted.
Special thanks to Hide Takahashi and Masami Kanaya for making this experience possible by escorting the group around and assisting with Japanese translation.