Letting kids be kids

Bringing fun back to Fukushima
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In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, there’s still room for children to have fun.

On March 11th 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit off the east coast of Japan—the most powerful earthquake on record for the nation. The earthquake triggered a massive tsunami and resulted in the devastating Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident, releasing dangerous radioactive material into the environment.

This series of horrific events resulted in about 16,000 deaths, 6,000 people injured and 2,600 people missing. About 120,000 Fukushima people are still unable to return to their homes and businesses due to unsafe levels of radiation or destruction by the tsunami, creating physical space and tension where close-knit family and community ties used to be.

Although news coverage on the event and its aftermath has largely come to a halt, life for the thousands of people affected by the nuclear disaster is still far from normal: decontaminated radioactive waste sits ominously near roadsides, and public parks, once bustling with activity now lie empty and eerily silent.

Ongoing effects

Despite decontamination efforts many people feel that the radiation levels in some playgrounds, streets and outdoor spaces are still too dangerous for children. The normal childhood activities of free-running exercise, outdoor adventuring and mixing with peer groups—all of which are important for children’s social and cognitive development—are limited in these areas. Adults are cautious of the children’s surroundings; questioning the safety of the air, water, earth and trees around them.

Sadly, this issue cannot be solved overnight. Cesium-137 was one of the dangerous radioactive materials released during the nuclear disaster, and its half-life is 30 years. This invisible, odorless substance has made its way into the water, food chain and soils of areas surrounding Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and overexposure is believed to increase the risk of cancer, thyroid issues and birth defects. Cesium-137 will continue to emit harmful radiation, robbing an entire generation of children of their ability to interact normally with the outdoor world.

An adult issue

Maho Takahashi, Charity and Campaign Manager for Lush Japan asks: “Did children have anything to do with the cause of this disaster? No, they didn’t. It was adults who made our country dependent on nuclear energy. The responsibility now rests on our adult shoulders to create an environment where children can grow up healthy and free from the fear of radiation.”

Being a company full of adults who love to have fun, Lush was keen to support those creating solutions to this very adult problem in Fukushima. The FunD was established in 2012 as a way to help bring fun, socialization, play and a sense of normalcy back to the kids who have lost it. We developed a colorful, moldable, multi-purpose soap (aptly named Fun) and donate a portion from the sale of each bar to the FunD. The money raised is granted to grassroots organizations working to create safe and fun opportunities for kids to play, grow and flourish. Fun is sold in every Lush shop around the world, with North American stores contributing 32% of the global sales.

Learning to rock climb at Channel Square Indoor Park

A child rock climbing at Channel Square Indoor Park

Innovative solutions

F-WORLD is one of the innovative organizations that was founded in response to this disaster, and one that we’re proud to support through the FunD. In March 2015, they opened Channel Square Indoor Park: a safe indoor community space for kids to play and parents to socialize. Takahashi says, “Fukushima is a beautiful area where the mountains and ocean meet, so outdoor activities like surfing, snowboarding and hiking are very popular. Channel Square was created by professional snowboarders and people who love nature as a place for children to create goals and passions for their future.” Inside, kids of all ages are learning activities like skateboarding, slacklining, rock climbing and more while adults enjoy a cup of coffee and chat with friends and neighbors, relishing a rare moment of respite from the concerns of radiation.

Channel Square was established not only for children who need a safe environment to play, but to provide an arena for the whole community to come together and heal the fractures created by the disaster. “Everyone cares about each other and looks after one another through engaging in sports and activities. It’s a kind of dream place you’d wish to have in your own town, not only in Fukushima,” says Takahashi.

In addition to providing this much-needed safe community space, Channel Square’s partnership with the Fukushima 30-Year Project Nonprofit Organization provides access to radiation monitoring equipment and educational materials that help parents keep kids safe. Project member Maki Sahara says, “I want people to come here, unwind…and perhaps be able to cope with the specter of radiation just a little bit more. I hope this place becomes a forum where people will voice their concerns regarding radiation with no fear.” It is only through this open dialogue and education that the community can forge the road to recovery together.

Other organizations supported by the FunD are bringing fun to kids and communities in creative ways. The Mirai no Mori organization takes orphaned or at-risk children from contaminated areas on outdoor retreats in safe locations. Here, they experience the healing effects of outdoor activities like white water rafting and camping, all while making friends and learning new skills. Takahashi has attended several retreats and says, “I feel grateful and happy seeing the smiles and the kids having fun, but it’s also emotional to have heard Fukushima children asking ‘Is it okay to touch this tree? Is it safe to play on this ground?’ soon after the disaster.” The innocence and gravity of these questions shows exactly how the disaster has impacted the lives of these children.

Although we don’t see or hear much about Fukushima on the news any longer, the community continues to struggle for normalcy in the aftermath of this terrible disaster. The FunD helps grassroots organizations in providing comfort, care, support and fun to the people of Fukushima—a constant reminder that we stand united in their road to recovery.

 

Through your purchase of Fun, we're are able to help organizations like F-WORLD and Mirai no Mori. Thank you for your ongoing support! 

Learn about the other grassroots organizations we support and how you can get involved on our Charitable Givings page. 

Although news coverage on the event and its aftermath has largely come to a halt, life for the thousands of people affected by the nuclear disaster is still far from normal.
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