Mikiko Ludden was reading headlines online from a Japanese newspaper when she first heard the news last month.
A 9.0-magnitude earthquake rocked Japan March 11, creating a massive tsunami that caused catastrophic damage to several of the country’s eastern coastal cities. One of the cities that sustained the most damage, Sendai, was home to Ludden’s good friend. It was also where Ludden’s elderly aunt and uncle were stranded while vacationing in the city.
“It was a nightmare,” Ludden said. “I couldn’t believe it happened. Not in 21st-century Japan.”
Although Ludden tried calling her friend and family in Japan every day after the tsunami, she did not hear anything from them for almost a week.
Ludden’s aunt and uncle were stranded for six days at the local airport. Her friend was missing for five days and lost everything she owned. Although they are safe, Ludden, who teaches Asian studies at the University of Puget Sound, said this disaster was a worst-case scenario.
“People lost everything. People were starving,” she said. “From there, I started thinking about what we can do to help.”
This month, students and faculty at UPS launched several programs to help the people of Japan. Their most ambitious project is creating a mobile made of 1,000 hand-folded paper cranes that will be shipped to the Zama International School in Yokohama, Japan. The school regularly sends young graduates to study at UPS. Individuals at Zama will deliver the mobile to a school in an area that has been more directly affected by the earthquake.
Kirsten Hansen, a senior at UPS and member of the Japan Support Coalition, helped spearhead the cranes project. In the Japanese culture, folding 1,000 cranes is thought to bring happiness and prosperity to those who participate or those who receive the gift, Hansen said.
“It’s about people coming together to put energy into making these cranes,” she said.
Hansen, who studied abroad in Japan for four months last year, said that experience inspired her to help launch the project.
“In Japan, strangers were willing to help strangers,” she said. “I wanted to help the country that was such a good host to me.”
This is not the first time students at the university launched fundraising and support efforts for international disasters, said Skylar Bihl, social justice coordinator for the university’s Office of Spirituality, Service and Social Justice.
Last year, students organized a fundraising campaign on campus to collect donations for disaster relief in Haiti, which accrued almost $1,600 worth of donated “meal points,” used to purchase food in the dining hall.
Students have already raised more than $600 for Japan in a bake sale held earlier this month. The paper cranes project would allow more students across the campus to participate and offer support, Bihl said.
The money will be given to the United Methodist Committee on Relief to aid in its Japanese relief efforts. The organization promises to deliver all proceeds directly to the relief effort chosen by the donor, Bihl said.
“We were not at all surprised our students chose to do this,” Bihl added.
Hansen and her peers said they are excited to receive so much involvement and support for the project.
“We really wanted to show the campus that despite how far away we are, we can still help in an act of solidarity,” Hansen said. “We are sending our emotions across the sea.”