WFWP Japan sends a youth volunteer team twice a year to countries where WFWP Japan has been providing humanitarian support. This year's team of nine young women toured the Ukraine September 1-9, 2018.
Ukraine, with its unique history of Chernobyl and the country's part in WWII and its characteristic landscapes, offered the youth group a rich first exposure to the region.
Before leaving Japan, the nine participants were asked to familiarize themselves with the culture and language, as well as the values and activities of WFWP.
Upon arriving in Ukraine, participants joined an orientation where they learned more about WFWP Japan and WFWP Ukraine's projects. They later visited Kiev Cave Abbey, a world heritage site, and the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War. The group was able to see the reality of the country, which has such a beautiful culture but has suffered throughout its history. They were amazed to learn that over 10,000 people per year are still dying in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
The next day, they went to the Chernobyl National Museum and absorbed sobering details about the nuclear accident. The group was presented with a medal in appreciation of WFWP Japan's continuous support of the victims of Chernobyl.
After visiting the museum, the group paid tribute to the victims of Chernobyl by placing flowers and praying at a local church. They were then honored with a firsthand account from a woman who heroically ran to the site on the day of the accident to help. The fact that many brave locals, like this woman, were part of the reason the tragedy was not even worse is not widely known in Japan. The participants were grateful to learn of these great acts of heroism.
On day three, a symposium was held in the National Media Center. Three Japanese youth volunteers and three students from the National University of Kiev (NUK) gave a presentation on "Women and Education". Following the symposium, the volunteers met with a group of NUK students, where they could discuss and build a friendship between the two groups.
The following day, the volunteers performed a song and dance at a music festival held in the National Library. The spectators cheered them on enthusiastically. Later that afternoon, WFWP's signature Bridge of Peace Ceremony was held, pairing young Japanese and Ukrainians in a symbolic bond between their two countries and cultures.
Their group also had a deep experience the next day when visiting refugees who had lost family in the conflict with Russia. "We didn't know how to deal with those who had lost their husband or parents at first", says Moriko Hori, President of WFWP Japan. "Yet, they started to smile as the Japanese youth volunteers taught them a traditional Japanese play. We really had a fun time with them."
Midway through the visit, they had the opportunity to harvest potatoes in the mud and rain. Ukraine is called the breadbasket of Europe. However, it is extremely cold in the winter, so they harvest during the spring and summer and preserve the produce.
On the second to last day, the Vice-State Governor of Zhytomyr welcomed the volunteers to his office. They later introduced the Japanese culture to disabled children at a local orphanage, watching the children laugh and enjoy the novel games the volunteers had brought from their homeland. Even though the volunteers found it quite difficult to teach them, it turned out to be a very meaningful experience. The volunteers later went to watch the Kiev Ballet.
Irpin City was the last stop on their 10-day tour. The mayor was a beautiful lady of only 32 years old. She explained that she wanted to be mayor to improve her country through the power of the younger generation. The volunteers planted trees with her and the mayor asked the group to come back next year to see the trees' progress. The participants answered enthusiastically that they would come back someday.