Hattiesburg American Column: 4/1/2011

Today I made a paper crane as a symbol of hope for Japan. It cost me about a dozen sheets of wasted paper and a few rounds of watching “Origami Crane Folding Instructions – Slow Version” on YouTube, but I finally managed one pitiful little paper bird. I’m proud of it. I’m going to keep trying until I make one that doesn’t look quite so pitiful.

According to my research in the form of reading one Wikipedia article and a few posts on social networks by friends, Japanese legend says that a person who makes a thousand paper cranes will have one wish fulfilled. Cranes are given as gifts to express hope for happiness and well-being.

I first learned of this practice on the photo-sharing site Flickr where I noticed that in the wake of the disasters in Japan, many people were posting photographs of origami cranes. My first reaction was that the cranes were very pretty in pictures but possibly served as a kind of slacktivism wherein people were making symbolic gestures rather than doing things that would really help.

I’ve changed my mind. I think they are more meaningful than that, and while I don’t think they substitute for contributing money and time to relief efforts, neither do they detract from relief efforts. People are actually using the cranes in conjunction with fundraising.

Go to http://studentsrebuild .org/japan to learn about a project that asks students to send in paper cranes. For every crane collected, the Bezos Family Foundation has pledged to donate $2 to Architecture for Humanity and the rebuilding of Japan.

Google “1000 Paper Cranes” if you want to learn more about the tradition, or search Flickr for paper crane photos if you want to see some of the origami tributes to Japan that have been posted worldwide. Meanwhile, consider making a crane yourself. It’s a good activity to get kids involved in as well. If nothing else, it’s an opportunity for simultaneous lessons in culture and geometry.

Paper cranes may not help as much as money, but that doesn’t mean they don’t help at all. They are expressions of a desire to offer comfort and hope. They say we are thinking of and praying for others in their time of devastation. They say we care. Caring alone may not rebuild lives, but it certainly matters. It matters quite a bit.

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