Like many who saw the images from earthquake- and tsunami-striken Japan, Sabrina Boever was moved to act.
“Even though I don’t know them, I want to help them have as good of a life as we do,” said Sabrina, a sixth-grader at Bright Beginnings charter elementary school in Chandler. “We don’t appreciate everything we have sometimes. I’m from a very fortunate family, and I feel bad for those people.”
But what could she, as one girl, do? Her calling came in the form of a collective effort at Bright Beginnings, where students in fourth, fifth and sixth grades have had their charitable urges inspired by the meticulous art of folding origami cranes.
The school has produced about 500 cranes, collected by the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix and sent to the San Francisco-based Bezos Family Foundation, which is donating $2 per crane to support Japanese rebuilding efforts.
“We asked them to sacrifice 30 minutes of their P.E. time to raise money and do something nice for someone else, without expecting anything back,” said John Mahnke, a wellness teacher at Bright Beginnings. “Some students gave up recess time too, and they took a bunch of paper home to make them there. We hoped to make 100 or 150; we’ve passed that by a long shot. It was amazing to see the kids respond the way they did.”
The endeavor has attracted families at Bright Beginnings, and for some of them, the effort for Japan — devastated by an 8.9-magnitude earthquake on March 11 and jolted by several aftershocks since, including a 7.1 quake on Thursday — is personal.
John Flynn met his wife, Miwako, in Japan while working for Motorola there. Married in 2002, the couple have a son, Sean, in first grade.
Flynn got the school involved with the Bezos Foundation, whose goal is to collect 100,000 paper cranes. They will be woven into art pieces of 1,000 cranes each — called a Senbazuru — to represent 100 wishes of healing for Japan.
“The legend is that you fold 1,000 cranes, you’ll be granted a wish by a crane,” Flynn said. “You impart that wish on someone who is sick or needs help.”
Miwako Flynn’s parents, sister and niece live in Koshima, about 100 miles from the March 11 epicenter and 60 miles from the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.
Much closer to the tragedy is the family of Sonoko Barnett, who has two children — Mika, a third-grader, and Aya, a kindergartner — at Bright Beginnings. Her family is in Sendai near the epicenter, and her uncle, Iwanuma Watanabe, died in the tsunami.
Her aunt was missing for four days. An agonizing week after the earthquake, she finally received an email indicating that the rest of her family was OK.
“You see all the kids there on TV, and they are the same age as my kids,” Barnett said. “It was terrifying. I wanted to do all I could, but I wasn’t sure what to do, other than pray.”
Family members in Japan are downplaying the threat of radiation from the Fukushima plant, Flynn and Barnett said, adding that culture in Japan dictates calmness and order at all times, even amid disaster.
“They tell me on the phone, ‘We have to live our lives,’ ” Barnett said.
Meanwhile, Bright Beginnings continues with its project of making origami cranes, a process involving dozens of paper folds and flips.
“I’ve watched these kids for hours,” Mahnke said, laughing, “and I still don’t know how to do it.”
Jenna Glew, a sixth-grader who has done origami folding for two years, has helped teach fellow students.
“This is the first natural disaster I really understand,” Glew said. “I knew of the earthquake in Haiti (last year) but didn’t really get it. To know that we can help some people in Japan and make a difference makes me feel good.”
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