PEMBROKE — Two-year-old Sadako Sasaki was living in Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, the day the atomic bomb dropped.
Nine years later, she developed leukemia as a result of the radiation she had been exposed to. While in the hospital, she spent her time folding origami cranes — working to create 1,000. According to Japanese legend, folding 1,000 cranes will allow a wish to be granted.
Sasaki only finished 644 before she died, but students at Union Elementary School are keeping her dream alive.
“The crane went from having the image of longevity in Japan to being a symbol of hope,” said Wesley Jacobs, a sixth-grade language arts teacher at Union Chapel Elementary.
After reading the book “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes,” which tells Sasaki’s story, sixth-grade students at the school decided to fold 1,000 cranes.
“We had intended to fold cranes anyway but we decided to make a school project out of it,” Jacobs said. “Every grade has had their hands on at least one crane”
The original plan was to send the origami pieces to the Bezos Foundation to help support Japan in its efforts to rebuild after the 8.9-magnitude earthquake on March 11. The foundation was offering $2 for every crane, but the deadline to submit the cranes had passed.
So the class is still looking for a community to send the cranes to.
“Just as a way to say, ‘We understand, we see what you are going through,’” Jacobs said.
The school is also collecting donations to send to the American Red Cross.
The goal of mass-producing the origami pieces caught on fast, and soon each grade level was helping out. Cranes, in a multitude of colors, adorn the ceilings, and a graph shaded to show the school’s progress hangs on a wall.
“They enjoyed it,” said Shane Fletcher, a sixth-grade language arts and social studies teacher. “They would come with cranes they made at home. Sometimes I’d have to get at them for making them when they were supposed to be doing something else.”
Each crane is made out of an 8-inch-by-8-inch piece of paper. One large crane signed by each sixth-grader hangs among the others. Each student also included a word, like “peace,” “hope” and “prayer” with their signature.
“Sometimes you wonder if it’s really hitting home, but I heard one child say to another, ‘You’re making two dollars for someone,’” Jacobs said.
Sixth-grader Joshua Locklear sat at a table Thursday folding cranes.
“It’s special to give them because it’s their tradition and it’s giving them hope to keep going,” Locklear said.
Students learned how to make the cranes from the book, watching video demonstrations —and from each other.
“At first it was hard to learn, but it got easier,” said sixth-grader Marlana Dial.
Dial, who had never done origami before this project, crafted about 50 on her own.
“It helps make them have global awareness and have empathy for other people,” Fletcher said.
He said the sixth-grade classes always read the Eleanor Coerr’s book as part of their World War II curriculum.
“I asked them to think about how each one they fold is like a prayer,” Fletcher said.
Nidara Cochran said she has a wish — “for Japan to recover from the earthquake.”
n Features editor Amanda Munger can be reached by calling (910) 272-6144 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.