New Yorker sends paper cranes home

by Tomoko Otake

An American teacher at an international school in Niigata is helping New Yorkers heal from the shock of last month’s terrorist attacks by sending letters, artwork and paper cranes from local residents to schools throughout Manhattan.

Michael Weininger (front left), teacher at Niigata Illinois American High School, and his students display drawings and letters they plan to send to schools in New York to encourage those affected by last month’s terrorist attacks.

Michael Weininger, an art and English teacher at Niigata Illinois American High School in Nakajo, Niigata Prefecture, said he came up with the idea because he is from New York and felt an urge to do something after hearing stories of citizens, firefighters and rescue workers losing their lives as a result of the attacks.

“What has happened is just such a terribly amazing thing,” he said. “I wish I could be there right now almost. People around me have been very supportive, and they have been motivated to do something.”

To start, Weininger sent 50 letters Wednesday from Niigata Illinois students to the School of Visual Arts, the art university in New York from which he graduated.

Students there will respond to the letters, he said.

Some 15 color drawings, which bear prayers for peace, will follow this week, according to Weininger.

Another package to be sent mid-November will include batches of 1,000 paper cranes, poems and more drawings and letters.

These will be from students at about 10 elementary, junior high and high schools, as well as students at Niigata Illinois and Southern Illinois University of Carbondale, also in Nakajo.

Boxes have been placed in local community halls and the Nakajo Municipal Government office to encourage locals to donate paper cranes, said Kumi Kanai, a recreation major at Niigata Illinois.

“In Japan, paper cranes symbolize hope and dreams,” she said. “I want to convey the message that the terrorist attacks should not be repeated and our hope that peace will prevail.”

Through SVA’s school internship program, the gifts will be sent to grade schools throughout the city, including lower Manhattan, near the site of the attacks.

While the exchange is intended to help New Yorkers, it will also be a great educational experience for Japanese students, the 29-year-old teacher said.

“Every student who contributes a letter, artwork or poetry will be responded to directly,” he said. “From the English level, they are still working on their English, but it’s really deeper than that.

“As a teacher, I’m going with a feeling that this seems very positive.”