Exploring the Power of Community through Palette Camp

Lily Wang and Tommy ZhouNovember 9, 2022CitizenshipHelping Hands
Exploring the Power of Community through Palette Camp

Artwork by Aditya Rao, age 15

Futaba, the town known for the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear leakage, is a nightmare and trepidation to many people.

In March 2011, the entire population was evacuated because of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. The official population of the town was zero in 2020. While Futaba may not seem like an ideal travel destination, an organization called Palette Camp has endeavored to bolster tourism and revitalize the place despite its deterrents. Founded by 2 undergraduate students, there are now three leaders of the project: Masayuki Kobayashi, Swastika Harsh Jajoo, and Trishit Banerjee. Together, they seek to spread a sense of community through their work.

Masa is a 22-year-old senior-year undergraduate student at Tohoku University’s School of Engineering. Swa is a 25-year-old first-year PhD student in Tohoku University’s International Cultural Studies department. She is also a KidSpirit alum. They come from different backgrounds — Masa is from Japan, while Swa is from India. However, serendipity — in the form of a walking tour — brought the two ambitious students together, begetting this novel camp.

Palette Camp aims to guide tourists to Futaba and give them an opportunity to observe its positive and inspiring aspects. It is dedicated to rebuilding the community and reshaping tourists’ attitudes towards this town, which was once labelled as horrible and devastated. Furthermore, the leaders want to draw attention to the profusion of cultural history there, by leading their guests around the town and explaining local tales. Palette Camp offers new encounters, indelible moments and learning through their tours. Another one of their prominent programs is morning yoga, in which they gather tourists in the morning to enjoy the dawn while stretching their bodies. From building friendships to building towns, Palette Camp offers a unique experience for guests to savour.

As teenagers from Melbourne, Australia, we were both interested in investigating this meaningful project. Organized by KidSpirit, we had an opportunity to converse with the leaders of the Palette Camp. Through the interview, we learned more about both the leaders and the camp. Below, Masa, Swa, and Trishit reflect on what inspired them, how the camp originated, what obstacles they faced during its construction, and more.

What experiences have you had with your community that motivated you to initiate the program?

Trishit: My parents have a massive role in shaping my values. They both pushed me to do something different. They told me, 'Don't just focus on your exams; use your education to benefit the community.' As a child, I didn't understand why they encouraged me this way. I even disliked it, because I was doing something different from my classmates. But now, I am incredibly thankful for them at this stage in my life! They instilled a strong sense of community and made me realise the importance of working with the people around me.

Masa: My surrounding environment has shaped my sense of community. When I was younger, I moved around the world due to my father's job. Wherever I went, I immersed myself in that community, partly for survival . . . That's why I can always carry with me something different from my previous experiences and apply it to the existing environment. For example, I would form a new community by playing some games with my new friends. I was almost forced to consider the importance of community in every town, which is why I am so grateful for my parents! They always encouraged me to go outside and explore my surroundings!

What are some positive impacts that you see through your work?

Swa: One thing that all three of us have observed is how we have so many more stories from the locals and visitors, which we gained through this program. Sometimes they are shared on social media, and sometimes just through word of mouth. Even if just one more person gets to know this initiative and starts to take an active interest in the town, that would be a big victory. We started from nothing, and now we can see all these stories of people who are touched by this community. That adds to a sense of fulfilment.

Trishit: Many of our participants believed that Fukushima was unsafe. Once they attend the camp, we see a shift in their view. They can overcome their belief in the stereotypes of the town. What is truly remarkable about this is that they can experience firsthand how prejudices can be broken. And going a step further, many participants join our organisation as staff and contribute to the program. So, they are not only changing their perception of this environment, they go a step ahead and decide to dedicate themselves to this region. That is one significant impact all of us can see. People turn from just a participant to someone proactive in building the community.

What are some obstacles you face as you develop the program?

Masa: There were a lot of problems we faced with the logistics of the program. For example, one of our activities was morning yoga, which took place on a public field. There was a process we had to go through with the local government to permit us to host there. We tried to have a barbecue, but the town did not have a fire department, so we could not. Luckily, we were supported by many locals who also wanted to revitalise this town. They gave us suggestions and encouragement that ultimately led us to where we are now.

Trishit: Teamwork and collaboration are other challenges we learned to overcome. The three of us are friends and have known each other for a long time,but when new people come in, they are not necessarily our friends yet. They are joining as an acquaintance. This means that a friendship and professional relationship are building at the same time. That also means there are disagreements. Our job is not to make sure everyone thinks in the same way. Instead, if there is a disagreement, we have the chance to address it. The idea is not to be dictatorial but to foster an environment where people can share their views and suggestions. We are always willing to try new things that people propose.

What have you gained from this experience?

Swa: Being part of Palette Camp has made me introspect on my beliefs. It has prompted me to consider the meaning of community. I think, unknowingly, we all have our own biases about foreign countries and cultures. When I first came to Futaba, I constantly used the words stereotype and prejudice in relation to how other people viewed the town. But I now realise that I need to examine my thinking and question my own stereotypes and prejudices. Eradicating these biases does not happen overnight, but I feel that I can be more compassionate and care more for the community than my self-interest. At the end of the day, the purpose is to build community. Futaba has really encouraged me to re-evaluate my view of not just the world, but also my own perspective.

Masa: I never thought we could make this much of an impact in just a few years. Now I see that if we come together and unite in a common philosophy, we can make a great impact on society. There is this mindset that a person must be in a large corporation to live "wealthy and healthy." Now, I realise that doing something in a small group is a very healthy approach to life. Creating new things is very important, but resilience and consistency are equally so. We face a lot of problems, but we do not give up. I learn how to continue building out projects and ideas. I think this is what I gained from Palette Camp.

In this interview, we met three amazing change-makers, each equipped with unique and thoughtful perspectives. Their mission is to promote their project and enlarge their influence. Although they are uncertain of the next step after graduating from college, they have successfully reinvigorated Futaba, aggrandized its reputation, and received praise from tourists. We think the most significant part of Palette Camp is that it allows people to break the chains of prejudices and see Futaba from a fresh perspective. As young people, we were inspired by their incredible story. From a small idea to a flourishing community, their journey taught us the importance of perseverance and compassion. We hope to apply these qualities to our own communities and follow in their footsteps to make a genuine impact. Interviewing Swa, Trishit, and Masa has been a wonderfully insightful and enjoyable opportunity. We wish them every success!

Lily Wang is a 16-year-old living in Melbourne, Australia. Her passions lie in literature, politics, and philosophy. She can often be found in the realms of a novel, immersed in an article, or in deep discussion with friends on a topic that knows no bounds. Lily is also guilty of watching and re-watching sitcoms while working on her latest knitting project. Ziyin (Tommy) Zhou is a 17-year-old who lives in Melbourne, Australia. He enjoys reading books and news, writing articles, listening to music, swimming, appreciating the environment, playing tennis, and playing the violin. He is also an active journalist in his school and community.