The University of Iowa

Willowwind Students Help Tsunami Survivors

April 6th, 2011

By Erica Pennington, The Gazette
Photo by Karen Wachsmuth – See more photos here

While the disaster in Japan seems a world away for most, fifty students at Willowwind Elementary School in Iowa City participated in a localized effort to help survivors by learning origami on Tuesday.

Organized through the University of Iowa Japanese Outreach Program, the activity is part of the ‘Million Crane Project.”

Founders of the initiative at Princeton University hope to have total of one million paper cranes symbolizing peace, hope, health and prosperity to be completed by May 11.

“It [the ‘Million Crane Project’] is important because it helps the people in Japan cope with what’s happening and also helps them know that everyone cares about them,” fourth grader Garret Gorsch said.

Although no students at Willowwind were directly affected by the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, Head of School Carly Andrews credits having the global perspectives of the school’s international students to keeping Japan in the forefront of everyone’s minds.

“The kids have had a lot of questions about what they saw on the news and wanted to talk about it,” Andrews said. “For a small child that’s on the other side of the world experiencing a tragedy like this, they feel helpless. The kids here feel this project is a way to help show them they are connected to others and that they care.”

According to teachers, the large-scale loss of homes, large death toll and threat of meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear complex were the most discussed topics during the daily hour-long dialogues.

Currently fifty-five schools, universities and public service organizations are involved in the project. Thus far the University of Iowa and local efforts such as those at Willowwind have contributed around 2,000 cranes and the number is growing quickly.

“Tragedies will continue to happen and it’s important to teach students to be involved in the global community,” fifth and sixth grade teacher Shanti Elangovan said. “Making cranes was just one way for our kids to do that.”