Over 5,000 miles of the Pacific separate us from Japan, but on March 11, that distance felt uncomfortably close. On that cataclysmically awful day Eastern Japan was struck by an 9.0 Earthquake, a towering tsunami, and the terrible beginnings of Nuclear disaster. In this state it wasn’t just the sailors in Santa Cruz watching their toppled yachts who felt a grave moment of pause when nature struck the island nation with the same seismic phenomena scheduled for our state. Thankfully, many took that pause as a call to action, including some very small but sincere voices at Matthew Turner Elementary.

Julie Seymour’s classes had just finished a reading unit on natural disasters the day the quake broke. Initially, Ms. Seymour had to do some damage control, assuring kids that the waves wouldn’t hit here. Ms. Seymour’s pupils—most of them earthquake drill veterans since Kindergarten—were awestruck. But as soon as worry abated, they surprised her with their genuine concern.

“These kids really touched my heart. They want to do everything they can to help,” she said. Ms. Seymour teaches fifth grade and co-directs student council, and soon after the quake, the council decided to hold a bake sale. The sale eventually made over $400, which Gene Pedrotti
of Benicia’s Ace Hardware matched and contributed to the Red Cross for disaster relief. But the students still felt like to do. The school decided to honor the victims with an art project and students commenced a Paper Crane Folding the eventual goal of folding 1000 paper cranes.

The inspiration for the Cranes comes from the story of Sadako Sasaki, a real life Japanese girl best known in America through Eleanor Coerr’s Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, a staple in elementary school libraries. Sadako grew up in a Hiroshima still haunted by the effects of war, where “the atom bomb disease” of Leukemia claimed frequent victims. Happy and athletic at the book’s beginning, she soon began to experience the dizzy spells signaling the onset of the disease. While hospitalized, she started to fold what she hoped would be 1000 paper cranes. She died at twelve, and a statue commemorating her stands in the Peace Park in Hiroshima with a constant supply of fresh paper cranes from visitors. And at Matthew Turner, a thousand cranes will honor Sadako’s simple wish for safety and peace.