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March 24, 2011

Schoolchildren Make 1,000 Paper Cranes on Behalf of Japan Victims

by Bernard Shusman

Among the worldwide efforts to help the people of Japan following the recent earthquake and tsunami are school children who are reaching out in various ways. One New Jersey school is taking a unique approach to help, and teach its children empathy for the victims in Japan at the same time.  

There are nearly 40 Japanese-American students at the Somerville Elementary School in Ridgewood, New Jersey.  But all of the school's 525 students have heard about the disasters that hit Japan. They have decorated their school with a veritable flock of paper origami cranes.   In Japan, it is said folding 1,000 paper cranes confers the right to make a wish, and the Somerville students are engaged in an effort to translate their empathy for victims of Japan's earthquake and tsunami into a wish for a speedy recovery.

Art teacher Samantha Stankiewicz says it gives students a way to express empathy for victims.

"For children, the folding of the cranes has been a really positive way for them to feel like they're actively engaged, even though the cranes are symbolic," said Stankiewicz.

These students thought out loud as they folded cranes in the school library.

BOY: "The crane is a symbol of hope, so we try to have a lot of hope for those people in Japan."
GIRL 1: "It makes me feel really happy that everyone's caring for another country."
GIRL 2: "I feel sad for them; like really sad for them.  But I also feel happy for us, because we are really trying to help out."

That help consists of contributions from students to disaster relief agencies.  Principal Lorna Oates-Santos says children at the school have donated nearly $2,000.

"We will be donating that money to the American Red Cross and Save the Children," said Oates-Santos.  "They are two groups that are ready, on the ground in Japan to help the people of Japan."

Joining the assistance effort is the school's television club, which produces weekly programs on a variety of topics.  Fourth grade teacher Gabrielle King runs the club.

"When the earthquake happened, the children wanted to know what they could do to inform other students and raise awareness for the people in Japan," said King.  "So, we decided to do a show on the earthquake, and to also making the cranes; the origami cranes."

Somerville Elementary made 1,000 cranes and a wish for the people of Japan to have a prompt recovery.