SOUTH FORSYTH -- One student’s empathy for the November terror attacks in Paris and Beirut sparked a service and prayer project that ended up including almost the entire student body at a south Forsyth private Catholic school.
Gunmen and suicide bombers conducted coordinated, almost simultaneous, attacks on Nov. 13 at a concert hall, a crowded stadium, restaurants and bars, killing 130 people and wounding hundreds in Paris. Meanwhile, a separate pair of suicide bombers killed 43 and wounded at least 239 in Beirut.
ISIS, the Islamic extremist terror group, claimed responsibility for the attacks.
That Sunday, Jeffery John reached out to a Latin teacher at Pinecrest Academy who moderates the kindergarten-12th grade school’s Crafters for a Cause Club about making a set of paper cranes.
“This was just something he was moved to do in response to those terrible events,” Deirdre Donlon said. “He got the rest of the club on board, and Monday morning we started our first set of 1,000 paper cranes.”
The club, now in its second year, created a “spiritual bouquet” to send to Paris and Beirut to show support for those affected by these tragedies by combining the Christian tradition of a spiritual bouquet with the Japanese tradition of the cranes, said Vivian Heard, communications coordinator for the school on Peachtree Parkway.
A spiritual bouquet is a collection of prayers, sacrifices, novenas, rosaries and Masses offered by individuals and collected together to be presented to a recipient, listing the prayer intentions being offered, Heard said.
The cranes are a tradition evolved from Japanese legend stating that folding 1,000 origami cranes grants a wish.
“These cranes have become a symbol of peace through the story of World War II survivor Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who folded 1,000 paper cranes to be granted the wish to live,” Heard said. “Her story has inspired people all over the world to fold and display origami cranes as a symbol of peace.”
Combining the two traditions, each crane the club members folded was made of a 3-inch square of origami paper. Students and other members of the Pinecrest community wrote prayers and intentions on the inside of each square so that when the paper was folded, the prayer was tucked inside.
“We attempted to get prayers and intentions from all of the students in the middle and high schools,” Donlon said. “The actual folding of the cranes was accomplished by 20 students ranging in age from freshmen to seniors.”
The Paris project was designed using three colors to represent the French flag: 13 strings each of blue, white and red.
The Beirut project was a traditional multi-color set.
“Being slightly ambitious, we attempted two sets of 1,000 paper cranes in about four days,” Donlon said. “Between working during the day folding cranes and a few nights after school, we were able to send out the first set to France on the fifth day. It took us an extra few days to finish the set for Beirut.”
They mailed the Paris set to the Bataclan, one of the city’s most popular music venues and the site of the highest death toll in November — 89 — when gunmen held concertgoers hostage.
Folding the cranes benefitted the students, too.
“There is a proven correlation between skill in handicrafts and improved memory, retention and problem solving. Teaching a student to crochet, or knit, or make origami gives them a skill that they can carry on into the rest of their lives,” Donlon said. “Then by making the focus of the club about serving others, the students see how little it actually takes for them to become involved.
“The greatest benefit for my students comes from learning a new skill and then seeing how that skill can bring joy and happiness to those who are suffering or in need.”
Crafters for a Cause has more projects planned, including the creation of another 1,000-crane set to send to Hiroshima to show support for world peace.
The group also plans to make a set of cranes for the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta cancer ward, while also crocheting and knitting hats and scarves for the homeless.
“They see how a cap that took them maybe an hour to complete can have an immediate positive impact for someone who is living on the streets,” Donlon said. “They learn that change does not require them to be rich, only willing to give their time.”