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MailTribune.com
  • Passing the Peace

    Paper birds fly from the valley as a powerful symbol
  • If you've come across a brightly colored piece of paper folded into the shape of a bird and resting on a windowsill or a store shelf somewhere in the Rogue Valley, you've found a joyful wish for peace that began in 1955 in Japan.
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  • If you've come across a brightly colored piece of paper folded into the shape of a bird and resting on a windowsill or a store shelf somewhere in the Rogue Valley, you've found a joyful wish for peace that began in 1955 in Japan.
    Sadako Sasaki was 2 years old when the atomic bomb dropped on her home of Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945. She developed leukemia from radiation exposure and died at the age of 12 in 1955, but not before inspiring a legacy of passing on peace and goodwill.
    During her illness and hospitalization, Sadako worked to fold 1,000 origami paper cranes to fulfill a Japanese legend that promised healing. Though Sadako did not receive her wish, she has become a symbol around the world for peace, immortalized in the nonfiction children's book "Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes" by Eleanor Coerr.
    Half a century later and half a world away, Sadako's message is alive and active in the Rogue Valley. From a local church congregation to children at two Medford elementary schools, thousands of paper cranes are winging their away around the valley and to points farther afield, including a school in Massachusetts.
    Linda Tucker, associate pastor at First United Methodist Church of Medford, has always enjoyed practicing origami. A year ago, she was looking for a group project for her congregation and settled on the goal of folding 1,000 cranes. The church achieved that goal, and then took the cranes out into the world, leaving them around town and giving them as gifts to individuals. Enthusiastic about response to the project, Tucker doubled the challenge in 2013 to 2,000 cranes and offered folding lessons at the church. In 40 days, 59 church members ages 5 to 80 produced 5,000 cranes.
    "It touched a chord in people," Tucker said. "I knew it was moving to me to fold paper cranes, but to do it as a group — and what we accomplished — everyone had a sense of 'wow.' This year, after the Newtown shooting, we thought it would be great to show a sign of peace for our schools, that they needed a sign of goodwill and support."
    Tucker collected the 5,000 cranes into rainbow-hued hangings. In April, the church gifted hangings to five Medford elementary schools: Jackson, Hoover, Roosevelt, Kennedy and Washington. All the schools were thrilled to receive the beautiful artwork and displayed the hangings prominently, but that was just the beginning of passing the peace.
    At Roosevelt, two sixth-grade teachers saw the cranes as an opportunity for their students to take action. The Boston Marathon bombing occurred on April 18, taking the life of an 8-year-old child. Cathy Gerritsma and Steve Hassen proposed that their classes fold 1,000 cranes and send them to the victim's school as a show of support.
    "The kids wanted to do it," Gerritsma said. "I taught the kids how to fold, and then Steve led the classes in a letter-writing effort."
    In about three weeks, 59 students folded the 1,000 cranes and wrote accompanying letters.
    "I think it shows that kids do care," Gerritsma said. "We've got some kids with some pretty tough living conditions of their own, but they still want to reach out to others and say, 'We are thinking of you and want to help.' The excitement of all of us doing this project together has been very bonding."
    At Hoover, Principal Lynn Cataldo was happily surprised by the gift of the peace-crane hanging, immediately seeing a connection to a budding origami club of students.
    "When Linda brought in the crane piece, I shared with her about our new origami club led by sixth-grader Max Johnson," Cataldo said. "Linda was very enthusiastic about it, and she has now stepped in as a volunteer to help Max, so we've been able to expand the club to grades three to six because of her help."
    Tucker now teaches origami to 20 or more Hoover students each week, assisting student leaders Johnson and Parker Landon. The first lesson: peace cranes.
    "When people see them, they do smile, even if they don't know it's a peace crane," Tucker said. "It doesn't seem like anything, just a piece of paper, but it does have more power than might be obvious."
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