Over a hundred paper cranes folded by Somerset Community College students and local Somerset children were recently packaged and mailed to Princeton Universitys Asian Studies Department, two months after a 9.0 earthquake struck off the coast of Northeastern Japan.
We at SCC had the privilege of joining students from around the country and various parts of the world in two different origami service projects, says Roberta Golliher, instructor of communications at SCC and the local contact for the projects, which provided symbolic and material aid to Japan for earthquake and tsunami relief.
Over a million cranes have already been donated to the first, and the second Million Crane Project will be releasing its final count soon, she adds. Origami crane folding is a time-honored Japanese tradition. Its a way of doing what one can in the face of serious illness or disaster, according to Golliher. Legend has it that folding a thousand cranes can change ones fortune and make ones wish come true.
Though the practice of crane folding dates back to time immemorial, at SCC, students were learning and sharing it through very modern methods through photos and videos posted online. Its been quite a lesson in the possibilities of compassion in current times in combining new media with old-fashioned human touch, adds Golliher, who formerly taught English in Japan, and took Japanese classes while in graduate school at the University of Iowa.
My former Japanese teacher, Chiemi Hanzawa, invited me and any interested students to join the Million Crane Project via Facebook says Golliher, who had been following developments in the aftermath of the disasters in Japan by reading the postings of former classmates, students and colleagues.
Students watched YouTube videos and followed my instructions to learn how to fold the cranes, says Golliher. Because Alex Land, one of my SCC Russell Center students, was quick to snap and send me a mobile phone photo, our original humble little notepaper flock was one of the first posted on the Projects Tumblr photo blog site.
The flock didnt stay small for long. When we ran out of my leftover origami paper, and we started folding eco-cranes from used notepaper, magazine pages, junk mail flyer seven old SCC commencement programs, she adds.
And look what's come of it now! says Golliher, pointing to piles of colorful cranes in her office and photos of roomfuls of cranes that participating organizations posted online as they made the final push to reach the projects May 11 postmark deadline. Now, the 150 Somerset cranes will join thousands of other cranes of all colors, many sizes, and various materials on strings, in bags, and in boxes from over 42 participating groups and schools. Less than a week ago, the project and its mounds of colorful cranes received national news coverage on NHK, the Japanese national television network.
The project makes a great example of how one can think globally, while acting locally, according to Golliher. It helped my students become engaged in learning about current events in Japan, she adds. Two of her students, Bo East at the SCC Casey Center, and Patty Noegel, at the SCC Russell Center, researched and educated their classes about the recent earthquakes, tsunami, and radiation disasters, and found their classmates to be ready audiences.
Mostly, the students just enjoyed learning how to fold cranes and contributing them to a good cause. I think its an awesome way to give hope and its simple, says Kelcie Murphy, another Russell Center student.
Local children participated as well. At SCC Earth Day, children could learn crane-folding step by step at a walk-up table, and go home with environmental literature educating them about both Asian and North American cranes, as well as their need for wetlands habitat.
We got a few lovingly but laboriously folded cranes from that event, says Golliher, smiling, adding that most children felt a bit conflicted about whether to donate their hard work or take it home.
But perhaps our most sincere cranes were folded by preschoolers taught by Cindy Silvers, one of my students on the Somerset Campus, says Golliher, adding that when not studying at SCC, Silvers teaches at the Childrens Learning Tree in Somerset.
Some of Cindys students are just toddlers, too young to fold cranes. So they used makers, crayons and paint to decorate paper squares that were folded by the older kids, Golliher says.
They did all of this completely without my knowledge. I was completely unaware that our project had spread to a local preschool. Imagine my surprise when Cindy showed up in class with a whole boxful of rainbow cranes, each one an original, collaborative work of art!
The 150 cranes just mailed were not SCCs first. A month ago, Golliher sent off seven lucky cranes from each of her three participating speech classes, addressing them to the Seattle headquarters of Students Rebuild, a nonprofit service learning organization funded by the Bezos Foundation.
Students Rebuild collected cranes for only a month after the disaster, so we had to move fast to get in on their efforts, she says.
Bob Gieser of Holdfast Technologies, an exhibitor at the SCC Earth Day and an innovator in safer, more environmentally sound building materials, pledged a dollar donation to the Red Cross for each of those first cranes folded, according to Golliher, who hopes other local businesses and individuals will join in and sponsor the 150 she recently mailed.
It is very nice to know that folding a piece of paper raises money, says William Hays, another of Gollihers students on the Somerset Campus.
Once our first flock of cranes reached Students Rebuild in Seattle, they triggered more donations, Golliher points out.
The Bezos Foundation originally promised a disaster relief donation of $2.00 per crane folded and donated up to $200,000. But they were inspired to double their donations when far more cranes came in than the 100,000 originally expected. First twice as many, then four times as many and finally over a million cranes, according to Golliher. Origami piled in from all fifty states and over thirty-five countries worldwide.
An anonymous donor kicked in another $100,000, and all $500,000 is now being donated to Architecture for Humanity, a respected disaster relief and rebuilding organization. It will support transitional housing projects and reconstruction efforts organized through a coalition of Japanese architects and master carpenters.