Children battling cancer at Kandal province’s Japan Heart Children’s Medical Centre will soon be going on a virtual tour of the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in Japan.

This initiative aims to give the young patients an opportunity to explore the outside world, even as they battle with their illness.

The Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium is a popular tourist attraction in Okinawa, and boasts a large collection of marine creatures.

The aquarium is well-known for its Kuroshio Sea Tank. One of the largest tanks in the world, it allows visitors to observe whale sharks and other fish species.

A few years ago, a survey was conducted at the hospital to learn about the interests of the young patients, their desired activities, and preferred destinations. The most common response was that they wanted to see “wild animals”.

Due to their health conditions, it is challenging for these children to engage in activities that other children can easily enjoy.

The children cannot leave the cancer ward during their hospitalisation because their immune systems are weakened by chemotherapy. It is especially dangerous during a pandemic, because one infected child could spread it to the rest of the patients, according to the centre’s paediatricians.

“Therefore, we aim to offer them as many opportunities as possible to explore the outside world. The virtual aquarium tour was an excellent way to achieve this goal,” said Yoko Fujita, communications officer at the hospital.

About 30 children who are currently being treated at the hospital will take part in the virtual tour via Zoom call.

The one-hour-tour has been made possible through a partnership between Japan Heart Children’s Medical Centre and the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium.

“We did a survey a few years back asking our child patients what they wanted to do or where they wanted to go,” said Fujita.

“The most popular answer was to see wild animals. It’s difficult for these children to go out and enjoy things as other children can do, so we want to provide them with as many opportunities as possible to explore the outside world,” Fujita told the Post.

Dr. Mariko Kakazu, one of the medical staff at Japan Heart Children’s Medical Center, is originally from Okinawa, and the hospital decided to reach out to the aquarium staff to arrange the virtual tour.

The aquarium staff have also prepared some quizzes on sharks, which the children can participate in during the virtual tour. The aim is to make the experience as interactive and engaging as possible.

The initiative has been welcomed by the families of the children being treated at the hospital.

“It’s great that our children can participate in such an activity while they’re in the hospital. It will help them forget about their illness for a while and bring some joy to their day,” said one parent.

This is the second virtual tour organized by Japan Heart, with the first being held last year in partnership with the Phnom Penh Safari zoo.

A virtual tour was arranged at the Phnom Penh Safari zoo, located on the outskirts of the capital. The ‘trip’ provided entertainment for several paediatric cancer patients who were confined to the hospital’s cancer ward due to their health conditions.

During the tour, which lasted for 90 minutes, 22 children were accompanied by zookeepers who offered them a virtual experience that regular zoo visitors would not be able to have.

The zookeepers answered their questions and performed unique activities such as feeding the giraffes and taking a ride on an elephant.

Founded in 2004 by Japanese paediatric surgeon Hideto Yoshioka, Japan Heart is a Japanese medical NGO that runs the Japan Heart Children’s Medical Centre in Cambodia.

The centre specialises in providing high-quality medical treatment to children and adults with cancer, and all services are provided free of charge.

The virtual tour of Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium will take place on May 13.