‘Sending peace and love from Oxford’

(From left) Clara Umscheid, Zofia Williams, Catherine Willoughby, Ana Ambrosio and Alexandria Firth. Clara, Zofia, Ana and Alexandria helped fold more than 300 paper cranes for Oxford Middle School librarian Catherine Willoughby to take with her to Hiroshima, Japan and place on the Children’s Peace Monument in Hiroshima Peace Park. Photos by Jim Newell.

Oxford middle school students send paper cranes to Japan for peace

By Jim Newell
Managing Editor
OXFORD – When Sadako Sasaki was 12 years old she was diagnosed leukemia. The young Japanese girl was born Jan. 7, 1943 in Hiroshima, Japan, and she and her family had survived the detonation of the first atomic bomb on Aug. 6, 1945.
While in the hospital for treatment, Sadako heard of a legend that if someone folds 1,000 paper cranes they will be granted a wish. Hers, of course, was for good health.
Sadako thus made it her mission to fold 1,000 paper cranes. Her story was told in the children’s historical novel “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes” by Eleanor Coerr, a Canadian-American author who published the book in 1977.
Today, there is a monument, the Children’s Peace Monument, in Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park that is dedicated to Sadako and the other children who died of radiation poisoning. It’s adorned with thousands of paper cranes that people from all over the world bring to hang on the monument as a symbol, a paper prayer, for peace.
Oxford Middle School librarian Catherine Willoughby was a social studies teacher before becoming librarian and taught the book in her class. Since she and her husband were planning a trip to Japan over spring break, she thought she would see if any middle school students wanted to make paper cranes that she could place on the monument.

Oxford sixth graders folded more than 300 paper cranes for their librarian, Catherine Willoughby, to take with her to Japan and place on a monument in the Hiroshima Peace Park.

It wasn’t a mandatory assignment, but several students took to the origami project and became enthralled with making paper cranes, which today have come to symbolize heath and peace.
Oxford Middle School sixth graders Clara Umscheid, Zofia Williams, Ana Ambrosio and Alexandria Firth folded more than 300 paper cranes during their academic break times for Willoughby to take to Japan.
“I introduced the topic to them and then they just went with it,” Willoughby said. “They started coming in during academic break time and just started folding paper cranes.”
“It was very entertaining,” said Clara. “Me and (Ana) combined did about a hundred.”
Alexandria and Zofia folded around 200 paper cranes between them.
“I remember taking home a pile of (paper), like homework,” Zofia said. “I have a picture on my phone of a giant pile of it sitting on my table.”
The cranes have become symbols of peace and the girls felt that was a message that was important to share with people.
“It was nice to know that we were doing it for something important,” Clara said.
“I think that’s what motivated me to do it too,” Alexandria said.
“Just doing it for a good cause, and it was something fun to do too,” Clara said. “Sometimes doing stuff for a good cause is boring, like taking cans to a can drive. Folding origami is more fun I guess is what I’m trying to say. You don’t have to do it. We chose to do it.”
The girls thought it was a combination of “crazy’ and “really cool” that that people from all over the world will be able to see their work.
Ana remembers her mother telling her to do her homework, but she was already finished. Then her mother suggested she clean her room. “This is more fun, I’d rather do this,” Ana said.
After Willoughby places the cranes on the Children’s Peace Monument, she plans to take a photo to show the students how their hard work is helping share a message of peace to anyone who visits the monument.
“That will be cool, huh?” Willoughby said to the girls. “You’ll be a part of the children across the world who have done this.”
The girls estimated that, if you’re good at it, it probably takes a minute or so to fold a crane. There are 14 steps to making each crane.
“If you don’t fold cranes a lot then I think it would take four minutes to fold one,” Ana said.
“My first time I messed up so many times that I got frustrated. Then I finally got it. And it’s just that proudness that goes over you realizing you did it,” Alexandria said.
Alexandria, Ana, Clara and Zofia are about the same age as Sadako was when, in November 1954, shortly after her 12th birthday, Sadako was diagnosed with leukemia; what her mother and many others in Japan referred to as “the atomic bomb disease.”
It was in the hospital that Sadako heard that if someone folds 1,000 paper cranes they will be granted a wish. She often lacked paper, so she used medicine wrappings and whatever else she could find, including paper from get-well presents from other patients. Her best friend also brought paper from school for her to use.
It’s estimated that Sadako folded more than 1,400 paper cranes before her death on Oct. 25, 1955 at the age of 12 at the Hiroshima Red Cross Hospital, according to her family.
While Sadako’s wish was not granted, the Children’s Peace Monument is a monument for peace to commemorate Sadako Sasaki and the thousands of child victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and has come to embody a wish for health and peace throughout the world.
After her death, Sadako’s friends and schoolmates published a collection of letters in order to raise funds to build a memorial to her and all of the children who had died from the effects of the atomic bomb.
In 1958, a statue of Sadako holding a golden crane was unveiled in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. At the foot of the statue is a plaque that reads: “This is our cry. This is our prayer. Peace in the world.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *