As part of his world tour, beginning in Canada, then to Slovenia and Ireland, Champ headed for the U.S. for a whirlwind visit, first stopping in Georgia to see Quinnlin and Champerina, before continuing on to World Bearquarters in Missouri for a quick hello.
Champerina and Champ had a splendid visit! After a month traveling in the U.S., Champ found his way to Japan (a mere 6,400 miles) to visit the Kamata family. Suzanne (published author, American citizen) and Yukiyoshi (Japanese citizen) Kamata have 13-year-old twins – a boy, Jio and a girl, Lilia.
Japan may have a scary image after the recent triple disasters — the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown — but it’s actually beautiful and a very safe place with a low crime rate. Most children walk or ride their bikes to school. There is also a holiday just for children – March 3 is Children’s Day, when carp streamers are flown.
Jio and Lilia were born 14 weeks prematurely and as a result, Lilia is profoundly deaf and has cerebral palsy, which impacts her arms and legs. Language has always been a challenge and Lilia relies on writing in Japanese, using pictures or dramatic gestures to be understood. She now has a cochlear implant, so she can hear to some degree. However, she also uses Japanese sign language to communicate.
The family lives in a rural area of Japan and while things are improving, accessibility for wheelchairs can be challenging. She cannot walk or stand because of her cerebral palsy, so the family has installed bars along the walls of their home as well as a ramp to make life easier.
Having an active imagination, Lilia’s stuffed animals have been used to encourage and cheer her on through therapy. Her favorite, a panda, attended therapy with her often and Lilia made more of an effort with the presence of her beloved friend. So Champ’s visit was a great opportunity to make a new (beary) special friend. As is the case with most families touched by special needs, there is a lot of traveling to and from appointments and Champ has been lucky enough to accompany Lilia on those trips as well as to school. Champ is able to distract and comfort Lilia and he’s awfully cute. What’s not to love?
Champ will leave Japan soon for his next adventure, and Lilia will miss him dearly. Not to worry though, Champ brought a friend to leave behind with Lilia to continue the Making Friends Count mission. We hear the Kamata family is sending a small square Hello Kitty towel with a local scene (kids in Japan carry them all the time to use after washing their hands) along on his journey.
There’s something about a friend like Champ that is beautiful. Maybe it’s the huggable factor, the cuteness factor or maybe it’s the unconditional love that comes from a friend like Champ or a mixture of all three – hugs, cuteness and love. There are smiles, too, always the smiles. Smiles around the world.
Where will Champ go next?