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Kawamitsu family lends a helping hand to AIDS patients

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-07-30

Singing and dancing have become a way of life for the children of the Kawamitsu family. Under the guidance of their parents, they have entertained audiences both here in Okinawa and in the United States. However, unlike most child entertainers, who dream of fame and fortune for themselves, the Kawamitsu kids are using their talents for different reasons.

Known professionally as the "Flying Dragons," Akashi, Kanasa, Akino, and Aiki have decided to lend a hand to AIDS patients here in Okinawa - a big step for such young talent. Ranging in age between 9 and 17, the youngsters will perform at a charity concert on Wednesday night, August 4, at the Naha Civic Center with several other teenage performers. The concert, which the kids have named "Human Rainbow," is designed to be informative as well as entertaining. Speeches about AIDS awareness will be given with translations into English, and all proceeds from ticket sales will go to support AIDS patients and AIDS education.

The children's father, Haru Kawamitsu, explained that the family project stems from their experiences while living in the United States. "My best friend in college had AIDS. He thought that if he told me that I would no longer be his friend," remembered Kawamitsu. The two did remain friends, and Kawamitsu was exposed to the many hardships AIDS patients must endure. He started a HIV network and used his ability as an artist and entertainer to do AIDS charity events with other American entertainers. During this time his children were also very much involved in their father's volunteer work by performing and helping whenever they could.

"We lived in the U.S. for fifteen years. Only Akashi was born here in Okinawa. He was only a few months old when we moved there, but the youngest three were all born and raised in America," explained Kawamitsu. "The kids saw many problems with racism, discrimination, and AIDS while growing up there."

Kawamitsu and his wife decided to return to Okinawa with their children two years ago to give them a chance to learn more about their roots. Since their return, the family has been studying "sanshin," "taiko," Okinawan dance, and martial arts together.

Kawamitsu, wanting to continue his volunteer work for AIDS here in Okinawa, found that there was a major lack in education and awareness about AIDS amongst most Japanese people. "During a speech I gave about AIDS to about 350 elementary school students, I asked the kids questions to see about their knowledge about AIDS. I asked them if they thought they could get AIDS from a mosquito bite or by kissing someone with AIDS." He was shocked to see that 85% of the kids raised their hands thinking they could. "Even some teachers were very misinformed about AIDS," commented Kawamitsu.

As President of the HIV Network Okinawa, Kawamitsu now volunteers his time to try and change the misconceptions Japanese people have about AIDS. He gives lectures around the island and spends much time talking to AIDS patients. "Many people with AIDS are still afraid to go out into public here. Relatives and family are also still ashamed," explained Kawamitsu. "Many people with AIDS will telephone all the way to Hawaii to get advice from support networks there, because they fear being recognized here in Okinawa. Most of these problems happen because there is not enough education."

The idea for a charity concert began in January of this year when Kawamitsu's children approached him with their desire to help in some way. "They told me that by everyone holding hands together, we could create a 'human rainbow,'" recalled Kawamitsu.

"Human Rainbow" is scheduled to feature several other performers and will begin at 7 pm. Tickets will cost 950.

"I think AIDS will become more widespread all over the world, so we will need more cooperation with each other," commented Kawamitsu. "This event is an AIDS charity concert, but I also hope that it can create friendships between Americans and Japanese."

The Naha Shiminkaikan (Civic Center) is located next to Yogi Park. For more information, please call 945-2686.

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