Part of Aid For Japan’s mission is to reach out to some of the orphans from the tragic events of 2011. While the charity aims to connect with these children through the annual summer residential courses, it’s also beneficial for the orphans to visit the UK when the charity can arrange it.
For children that have lost their parents, this is an important step that not only broadens their view of the world but also reminds them that the world remembers them.
This summer two of the orphans, Maria and Ryota, flew from Japan to the UK along with our team of volunteers (who had been in Japan helping to raise awareness of Aid For Japan’s mission). After a successful Welcome Party, the children spent the next few days exploring the UK under the care of our lead volunteers Angela and Sumika.
Joined by Aid For Japan founder Akemi Solloway, Maria and Ryota met with Angela and Sumika at Richmond station on a hot August morning. Traveling by train to Strawberry Hill, the group were given a guided tour surrounding the historically interesting building. This Gothic-style villa in Twickenham (developed by author Horace Walpole in the 1700s) provided a visually spectacular venue for a visit (and will also be the location for a forthcoming Aid For Japan benefit event).
During the week that followed, Maria and Ryota were taken to London to take in the sights of the city. This included a visit to Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and The Tower of London, where our guests marveled at the sight of the Crown Jewels. To contrast the English theme, the children were taken to a Japanese restaurant for lunch.
Their London adventures also included a visit to Madame Tussauds where our guests could enjoy the lifelike waxworks of everyone from Lady Gaga to Brad Pitt. Then it was onto the impressive architecture of the British Museum where Maria and Ryota took a particular interest in the Egyptian and Japanese sections of the museum.
Akemi joined the team in the afternoon and our Japanese guests were treated to a visit to Fortnum & Mason, one of London’s famous department stores. Ryota took the opportunity to buy some souvenirs at the shop for people back home in Japan.
The next day, Akemi, Sumika, Maria and Ryota visited the Japanese Embassy in Green Park. This was followed by a visit to Buckingham Palace before the group caught the tube to go to the Grange City Hotel where Maria and Ryota enjoyed dinner kindly donated by the hotel.
During the week, Ryota stayed with Angela in the scenic locale of Westcliff-on-Sea, a seaside resort where Ryota enjoyed the sea air and the balmy summer weather. Ryota took a lot of photos during his stay and also took some English lessons from Angela, who also received some Japanese lessons from Ryota in return.
As a special treat, Ryota was taken to an outside screening of the classic film ET outside Southend Library before returning to Angela’s house where she made Okonyaki (Japanese pancakes) for dinner. The evening was rounded out by a DVD of the classic Studio Ghibli film Spirited Away which marked the end of a long but rewarding day.
The next day, Ryota was taken to Southend High School for boys where a modern church service was taking place featuring a musical recital and singing. Ryota sat at a table where he was told that everyone could take felt-tipped pens and draw on the tablecloth. Ryota displayed his talent for art with a drawing of a rabbit and some clowns.
It was back to London the following day for a tour bus around London (made easier for Ryota by having the commentary in Japanese). Following a return visit to Buckingham Palace, it was off to Richmond to Join Akemi and Maria for a picnic in Richmond Park.
Maria and Ryota’s final activity was a special visit to the Lake District. It was a 5-hour car journey (with one of our volunteers Greg kindly doing the driving) to the beautiful landscapes of the Lake District, but the real treat was a visit to the Beatrix Potter Attraction.
Angela had managed to get special VIP tickets for our Japanese guests, which included a Peter Rabbit Activity Trail. Maria was particularly delighted as her dream had come true to meet Peter Rabbit! Meanwhile, lunch consisted of a traditional English meal of Fish & Chips.
As with all adventures however, there comes a point when everyone has to go home. Maria and Ryota enjoyed an Italian lunch at Heathrow airport before flying back to Japan waved off by Akemi, Angela and Sumika. Both of the children enjoyed their UK visit and hope to come back in the future.
Maria and Ryota, like so many of the orphans of the 2011 earthquake/tsunami, are faced with the memories of that tragic event on a daily basis. Having the opportunity to enjoy a few days in a different environment, which brings them happier memories, is an important step in the road to recovery.
Aid For Japan extends its gratitude to all those that have helped with the visit of the orphans to the UK this summer. Thanks to the host families that have looked after the orphans including the Alty family (David, Mandy), Duggan family (Alex, Sarah, Robin), Clark family (Peter, Lucy), Garms family (North, Robin) and the Shaffer family (Angela, David). Thanks also to the Bhullan family (Amar, Omkar, Gurmej) and also Christel and Matteo.
Special thanks to Paul Algar, Angela Shaffer, Sumika Hayakawa, Greg Nicoll, The Japan Centre, Grange City Hotel and the staff at St John The Baptist.