No More Under: The story, the film, the cause
Author: Lauren Hunsberger | Photography: Inese Westcott | Posted In: Meet | May 2020
Chezik Tsunoda has a clear message.
“Water is everywhere. It’s something we all take for granted, but drowning is the number one reason children under age 4 die,” she says. “And it’s completely preventable. For kids 15 to 19 years old, it’s the number two reason.”
These statistics are unforgettable for her and husband, Kudo Tsunoda. On August 18, 2018, their family lost the third of their four boys, Yori, to a drowning accident. It happened within minutes at a small gathering at a friend’s house. He was three years old.
“This should not be the number one reason we lose our youngest kids,” she says. “This shouldn’t have to happen to any more of our babies.”
As imagined, the loss has been overwhelming, yet Chezik says she has managed to find “purpose through the pain.”
“It’s the hardest thing to say that when you’ve lost a child. But I have to think it’s happened to help change our community, if not the world,” she says.
Chezik takes care of her three boys: Ise, 8; Masao, 6; and Kenzo, 3. And she focuses on showing them how to take action in the face of tragedy, while spreading awareness about the dangers of drowning.
“In this moment, I feel Yori,” she says. “I feel guided by him; every day I get up and I walk and am guided through the space to do this work.”
NO MORE UNDER: THE NONPROFIT
For Chezik, taking action is an understatement.
“You could say I have had a few lightning-strike moments,” she says.
After the accident, she immediately began researching the resources available to parents regarding education and awareness about child drowning. She found a few small organizations in cities across the country and Facebook groups, but nothing substantial, nothing that truly satisfied her frustration.
It took only a few months for her to organize the 501(c)(3) nonprofit No More Under. Now the board has 15 local members who meet regularly.
“We’re basically trying to teach layers of protection,” she explains. Currently, they have four main objectives: (1) to push for mandatory swimming lessons in public schools, (2) to create life-jacket loaner stations for public beach parks in Bellevue, (3) to start an incentivized CPR program for adults, and (4) to develop a “Water Watcher” app (with a hard-copy version to be given out at health fairs and doctors’ offices).
“The Water Watcher app encourages you to stay off your phone and focus on nothing but the water,” Chezik explains. “And there’s a countdown feature. When your time runs out, you have to pass it off to another watcher.” There is also a GPS component, so if an accident does occur, emergency responders know the exact location even if you don’t know the address. She designed the initiatives specifically to reach people both close to home and far away.
- 3,500 children drown each year
- #1 cause of accidental death in children under 4
- 88 percent of drownings occur with at least one adult present
- 68 percent of black children have little to no swimming abilities
“I have this big vision to help parents around the world, but I’m also very passionate about serving local communities because I was carried by so many women here in Bellevue,” she explains. “Moms that—when I felt like I couldn’t walk, they said, we’ll carry you until you can.”
NO MORE UNDER: THE DOCUMENTARY
In addition to the nonprofit, Chezik is working on a documentary with the same name. The film is about her family’s story and that of others around the country who have endured similar situations. With a strong background as a director and producer (she has worked with MTV News, HBO, VH1 and other film production companies), she knew this was the perfect medium for her to express her vision and feelings.
“I’m doing this film because I understand how art can change people. That’s the whole point of art, to make you feel something and then take action,” she says. “With my documentary background, I knew wanted to make something for Yori—a legacy film.”
The idea came to her right around the one-year mark. “I suddenly was overwhelmed with a sense of urgency to do something. And so I got started right away.”With her professional experience and contacts, Chezik has traveled around the country, connecting with influential parents who are vocal about the cause. She says it’s been very tough reliving some of the memories and digging into the stories, but cathartic at the same time, knowing she can be part of a solution.
“My goal is for as many eyes to see this as possible. Some of those eyes might have HBO, but I need more,” she explains. “It’s the people who have only PBS that I want to see it. If it lands on Netflix, Amazon—great. I believe we have a real opportunity to build an educational platform that could be used in public schools and preschools everywhere. I want there to be real conversations, because what I’ve found is that everyone has a story or connection to the topic.
“I want people to watch this and understand the gravity of loss, but truly step away with hopefulness that we can change the stats around this.”
For more information, please visit nomoreunder.org.
- 300 life jackets given away
- 10 public school swim programs
- 5 life-jacket loaner stations
- 20 CPR parties
- 1,000 Water Watcher badges handed out
• Get educated about water safety
• Designate a water watcher at all times
• Swim in areas with lifeguards
• Get Coast Guard–approved life jackets
• Put a four-sided fence around your pool
• Get swim lessons for all your children
• Get an alarm on your pool
• Learn CPR