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ESK goes Japanese with paper cranes

The Episcopal School of Knoxville has sent 1,000 origami paper cranes to Japan with faculty member, Dr. Patricia Brake, in honor of a young Japanese girl who died of radiation-related illness after the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945.

Sadako Sasaki, 11, attempted to make 1,000 paper cranes to thwart a deadly form of leukemia, which overcame her after she was exposed to the atom bomb. She made 644 before she died at age 12.

All 284 ESK students and 65-member staff worked together in making the brightly colored cranes. Brake, who is traveling to Japan as a fellow of the Japan Fulbright Memorial Fund Teacher Program, plans to see that the cranes are taken to a statue honoring Sadako in Hiroshima.

The Rt. Rev. Charles G. vonRosenberg, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of East Tennessee, blessed the colorful garlands of paper cranes at a special service in October.

“The cranes are not just cranes,” vonRosenberg said. “They are not just an indication of Sadako’s desire to be healed. They are also symbols of our prayers and hopes for peace in the world. Sadako was herself a victim of war and the atomic bomb, and yet she has become symbolic of peace – in the same way the cranes have become symbols.”

Brake said, “The story of this young girl who lost her life to radiation sickness is so compelling because children are innocent victims of war. For her story to become a symbol of peace is inspiring because her death is almost like a sacrifice.”

Brake said Episcopal second grade teacher Nancy Lawrence first suggested the project.

“Nancy believes peace has to be purposefully taught to children. She said, ‘What if we make a thousand paper cranes and send them with you?’ I thought it was a wonderful idea,” she added. 

Art teacher Marie Gibson began teaching each student to make the cranes and sent crane-making instruction sheets home to parents. Before long, older students were making the cranes and teaching the younger ones to make them.

“I think the students probably liked the idea of doing something for someone in another country, thousands of miles away,” Gibson said. “I told them all the story of Sadako. Perhaps because it was a child like them and they empathized with someone their own age.”

She said she realized the project had taken on a life of its own when she found a little box that contained seven cranes made by second grader Jenny Kern on her desk one morning.

“She had put them all in a little box with a lid, like a present,” she added. “I was really touched, because I realized she was doing these at home.”

Eighth-grader Kate Ballew single-handedly folded 250 paper cranes herself one weekend.

“I can just watch TV and fold them, and it’s done,” she said. “The older kids were doing it. They thought it was cool. The little kids think everything we do is cool, and they copy everything the older kids do.”

Dr. Deb Sousa, director of music at ESK, has taught the children songs relating to the event. The Blessing of the Cranes service included musical performances by the children and messages of peace. 


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