Seniors College origami class sends hope — and 1,000 paper cranes — to Ukrainian embassy
Ayumi Coward grew up listening to her grandmother's stories of what it was like to grow up in Hiroshima, Japan, after the Second World War.
Hiroshima was devastated by the world's first atomic bombing and many of her grandmother's stories were marked by the loss and hardship of war, she said.
"It made a big impression on me, I was scared as a child that events like that could happen again," Coward said.
As she watched the war in Ukraine unfold over the past year, Coward said she was reminded of her grandmother's stories.
She wanted to do something to send hope and support to the people of Ukraine.
So, she began folding paper cranes.
Coward teaches an origami art class with the Seniors College of P.E.I.
Last September, she and her students began a new project to fold 1,000 paper cranes to send to the Ukrainian embassy in Ottawa.
"1,000 cranes means hope and peaceful," Coward said.
She said the cranes were strung together to create a senbazuru, which has a long history in Japanese culture as a symbol of peace, good fortune and good health.
Hope for peace
Coward said she and her students wanted to show the people of Ukraine that they stand with them and send them hope the conflict will end.
She hopes through this small action the group can inspire bigger action and spread a message of ongoing support for everyone affected by the war.
"The people [are] not alone … if we people get together we can do something big," Coward said.
"We can't stop the war, but [it's] something we can help."
The group started the project by reading the story of Sadako Sasaki, a young Japanese girl who, as a victim of the atomic bomb, set a goal to fold 1,000 paper cranes to restore her health, Coward said.
Sadako Sasaki's story became part of the inspiration behind the project.
"This is an amazing story, which we've never heard before," said student Faye Clow. "The idea that somebody would change a horrible incident into something for peace is amazing."
The group folded cranes in the colours of different flags representing Canada, the provinces and territories, Ukraine and Japan, said Kathy Stuart, who worked on the project.
Many in the group said they were surprised by how much work went into finishing all the cranes.
"As you did it each time and got to learn how to make a crane — which is quite a lot of work — you kind of develop the thinking about where those cranes are going and recognizing the cultural significance it has," said Stuart.
The purpose behind sending the cranes is simple, she said.
"We care, that's the message."
A sense of community
Liz Spangler said the project gave her a chance to get to know many new people and time to reflect on the situation in Ukraine and the experiences of people there.
"It's a hope for peace, I think and that's very important," she said.
Over nearly six months, the group folded and stitched together paper cranes one by one until the last crane was added earlier this week.
"To see, finally, 1,000 cranes was quite exciting and rewarding and it was nice because I realized that I couldn't have done it by myself. There were lots of people, it was a community project," said Spangler.
"I can't believe the amount of work that all these people put into it," said Clow.
After all those months of working together, adding the final paper crane to the senbazuru was an emotional moment for Coward.
"I'm almost crying because the students did very, very hard work, and me too," Coward said.
Along with the cranes, the group also put together a book filled with photos of P.E.I. and messages from all the people who worked on the project, said student Reiko Dolan.
"We dedicate it to the Ukrainian people," Dolan said.
"Hoping the war will not last and be over soon."
Coward said she and her entire family travelled to Ottawa and she plans to deliver the cranes to the Ukrainian embassy this week.