Last week another fellow English teacher had the idea to make paper cranes to send to a few of the elementary schools caught in the disaster path. She shared her idea with everyone via Facebook and the idea exploded. Someone suggested that the students should help, and within a few hours over 50 fellow teachers had jumped on board to have their classes participate. So we decided to shoot for 1000 paper cranes. Just like young Japanese girl that enriched her nation, we are hoping our efforts will raise the sprits of the affected children this time around.
We were advised early on to expect a small amount of disinterest and possibly even hostility towards this activity by the older kids (5th and 6th grade) because of the historical Korea/Japan wars. By age 12 students have been in their fair share of history classes and as unbiased as the teacher might be, there are still few positive topics regarding the 2 Asian countries. They have bad blood between them that runs centuries old. At one point while under Japanese rule, the Koreans were tortured for speaking their own language, while made to take Japanese names and all but abolish their traditions. From prostitution and slavery to bombs and island takeovers, they've endured a lot.
I had my students write a short note on the paper before folding them into cranes, saying something like "Hi my name is ______ and I'm from Korea. I'm sorry about the disasters and hope you get better." My 5th grade class was the worst, having 2 kids who even after they wrote the note extending their condolences, used the extra space to draw the island of Japan with a Korean flag and a missile heading for it, with a Korean stick figure w/ a gun on top of a Japanese soldier. Tisk tisk. I removed him from the activity. He didn't think I was being fair, so I had my Korean co teacher explain to him that we all have the opportunity and get to decide for ourselves whether or not we want to be angry or happy. I could be mad at him every day, because he is loud, stands in his chair, climbs on the table, and constantly interrupts me. But I decide to be happy. And nice. I was able to finish the bird project with all of my classes and the cranes will soon fly across the sea to brighten some faces and lift some spirits.