Wings for Peace
By Michiko I. Pumpian
As I looked up inside the Seattle Kingdome, where the 200 foot wide, giant bird stood tall, all of my fear and agony disappeared. It really did happen, right in front of my eyes; my dream really did come true.
This entire adventure had started one day in the winter of 1994, in Seattle, Washington where I now reside. A friend from my native country of Japan was visiting the United States for a year. She came as a volunteer to work with a non-profit organization called the Never Again Campaign. Her assignment was to spread peace through the story of Sadako and The Thousand Paper Cranes, a true story from Hiroshima, Japan.
“Michiko, do you recall the life of Sadako Sasaki?” she asked.
After trying to remember that name, I had to honestly reply “No, I do not.” Even though I was born in Nagasaki, Japan where the second atomic bomb had been dropped before I was born, I did not recall the story.
Knowing that I was a children’s songwriter, my friend told me a brief version of the story and then asked with great enthusiasm “Would you write a song for children about the Sadako story?”
I went to the library and read the very moving story of young Sadako Sasaki who died of leukemia from radiation that the atomic bomb left behind in her home Hiroshima. While dying in the hospital, she started folding paper cranes which symbolize hope for life and peace. Although she did not finish before she died, her school mates accomplished her goal of folding 1000 peace cranes. Sadako’s story made me cry, especially when I read the epilogue which talked about the children’s peace movement in Japan her friends started following her death. I was so moved, that despite financial challenges, I wrote the song ‘Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes” and recorded it with American and Japanese children.
After sending a cassette of my song to Hiroshima the next spring, five children and I were invited to lead 10,000 children singing my Sadako song at the peace conference held there to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the dropping of the bomb, and a world of people who want peace. As I stood in front of 10,000 elementary school children, conducting them and listening to all of their voices while they sang in one perfect harmony which filled the entire arena, my emotions climbed to it’s highest level of joy. I started crying because I saw I could make a difference, for peace, for children. That experience haunted me for the next two years. My heart’s voice kept saying “Do something more with 10,000 children, and this time in the U.S.”
I listened to my heart and decided to form a non-profit organization in Seattle so that I could follow its lead. Along with starting a children’s peace choir, I taught kids in local schools and the community how to fold paper cranes that symbolize peace. One day at a peace event at a nearby mall, fellow volunteers and I were teaching people how to fold paper cranes when someone suggested to me to make a big paper crane with a large piece of paper. That’s when the idea of a powerful symbol for children’s hope for peace began. I realized “I should make the world’s largest paper crane with 10,000 children!” The dream seemed unrealistic, and I didn’t know how to make it come true. My organization had literally no money and was run by only a handful of volunteers. But some strong force kept telling me I had to build this huge symbol of children’s hope. It took two years of steadfast determination and the help of countless volunteers.
At last, the World’s Largest Paper Crane stood inside the Kingdome on the cold day of November 10, 1999. The 5,000 students who came and gazed in wonder at the wings of peace recognized how a dream can become reality with dedication and cooperation of many people who share it. The beautiful symbol of hope and synergy for peace, constructed from 640 pieces of paper filled with peace messages from 10,000 children from all over the world, reminds us of our potential and responsibility for building the peaceful future they deserve. I know we can construct that future together with our common dream and collective effort.