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.

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside 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...