An origami crane, a traditional gesture of support. Photo: Saori Russell

Cragmont Elementary School in North Berkeley has launched a project to show support for Otsuchi Elementary School in Iwate prefecture, which was devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Students at Cragmont plan to send 1,000 handmade paper origami cranes, as well as money and letters of support.

A group of Cragmont parents, led by Japanese natives Saori Russell, Akiko Cutlip and Haruna Kubota, conceived the project following the March disaster.

“Everybody wanted to do something in response to the disaster,” said Russell. “But everyone was at a loss with what can we do. Making paper cranes is a traditional Japanese gesture to show support. It shows we are all thinking of them.”

Otsuchi was devastated by the tsunami. Photo: Kiyomu Tomita

Otsuchi was chosen because of a Cragmont connection with the devastated town. Craig Strang, a Cragmont parent,  is a friend and colleague of Tsuyoshi Sasaki, a professor at Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology. Sasaki’s family lived in Otsuchi when the disaster struck, and he traveled to the town not knowing whether they had survived. He found his wife and two children safe in a shelter. Most of the town’s children survived because they were in school and well prepared for emergencies, but 10,000 of the town’s 15,000 population perished or are still missing. The Otsuchi school caught fire 10 minutes after the evacuation and was subsequently destroyed by the tsunami.

Families in the shelter in Otsuchi. Photo: Kiyomu Tomita

“The school is gone and everyone is in the shelter now,” said Russell. “We hope our project can show the children at Cragmont that a little encouragement helps a lot.”

Today was the first day of the project at the school. Before school this morning, the children were shown how to make the origami cranes. Further work on the project will happen outside the classroom, such as in the cafeteria during recess, according to Russell.

Further information about the project can be found on the A Thousand Cranes website. The project is also encouraging donations to the Otsuchi Recovery Fund, c/0 Saori Russell, 2410 Valley Street, Berkeley, CA 94702. The Otsuchi Recovery Fund is a segregated account of The Fort Bragg Otsuchi Cultural Exchange Association, which has been organizing high-school student exchanges between Fort Bragg and Otsuchi for the last 10 years. According to the organizers, 100% of all donations will go directly to the municipal government of Otsuchi, with no overhead costs taken out.

Lance Knobel

Lance Knobel (co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine in Britain,...

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  1. I used to live near Mr. Rogers. Yup, really. Fred Rogers. Got to meet him myself and, besides, everyone around who was anyone who’d been around long enough knew him. I think he’d point out something along these lines:

    When children look at the television, and hear adults speaking, and in otherwise receive the news… some of that news can be frightening and confusing. The terrible tragedy that has been taking place in Japan is an example. It is very upsetting for children to imagine how their own lives, and the lives of those they love might be disrupted in such ways. And children very naturally feel deep concern for their peers who are in Japan and living through this hard tragedy.

    Part of our responsibility as adults – who share some of these reactions with children- is to offer our children a way to manage these fears; to come to terms with what has happened. To take some comfort in knowing that, although these very difficult kinds of events happen, we are all still part of community. We are all there to help one another when help is needed. We are all here to show support for one another when all seems lost.

    I think that it is very thoughtful of the children who make cranes to do so and to help their friends and their neighbors across the sea to understand that someone is thinking about them, and cares about them, and wants to help them in this difficult time.

  2. Berkeley High Students (and some staff) made over 7,000 paper cranes for Japan, raising about $14,000 for the victims of the Earthquake and tsunami. Watch the video:

    As noted on the Students Rebuild website:
    a $200,000 donation from the Bezos Family Foundation ($2 for each crane received). Once their goal of 100,000 submissions is reached, the cranes will be woven into an art installation – a symbolic gift from students around the globe to Japanese youth.

    There is joy in spreading peace and hope!

  3. If you’re concerned about donating money, visit the website below which is all about Otsuchi 😉

    As for the cranes, it’s a very touching gesture. Hope and love can be more powerful than money in these situations.

  4. I doubt that the elementary school kids who are folding the cranes have a lot of money to donate, and I doubt that anyone who wouldn’t normally donate would feel prompted to donate in exchange for a paper crane.

    Folding paper cranes is a nice project the students can do in class during their art time, and that has a symbolic meaning to the Japanese people.

  5. Fair enuf. But what are people without houses supposed to do with a bunch of paper cranes? Why not sell the cranes here to raise more money?