In 1955, 12-year-old Sadako Sasaki began folding a thousand paper cranes to try to heal her leukaemia, in accordance with a Japanese tradition. Despite surviving the bombing of Hiroshima a decade earlier, she had developed the “atom bomb disease.” Over half a century later, United Nations staff members hope to harness that same spirit to remind the world of the horrors wrought by nuclear weapons.
Sadako died on 25 October 1955, having completed 644 origami cranes. Her friends completed the remaining cranes and she was buried with them in Hiroshima, where the Children’s Peace Monument now stands in her honour and children from all over the world send more than 10 million cranes each year.
To commemorate the 65th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, dozens of UN workers at the Organization’s Headquarters in New York and at its offices in Tokyo have worked together to fold a thousand origami cranes. The cranes were then assembled into a garland that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon presented today to the Mayor of Hiroshima at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony. This marks the first ever trip by a Secretary-General to the annual ceremony.
“We expect that his presence at the [ceremony] as the first UN Secretary-General… will further develop international momentum to abolish nuclear weapons… and lead to consolidate political will of national governments that have been working for a world without nuclear weapons,” Kazuaki Oku, a Hiroshima municipal official heading atomic bomb commemoration activities, told the UN News Centre.
He commended the Secretary-General for showing “strong will toward the abolition of nuclear weapons by proposing a five-point plan to rid the world of [them].”
The paper cranes presented by the UN are highly significant, Mr. Oku said. “We believe that paper cranes could help forge the momentum for world peace and strengthen public opinion seeking a world without nuclear weapons, through conveying this episode to the world.”
Cranes, which symbolize longevity, are considered mystical creatures in many parts of Asia. In Japan, it is said that folding 1,000 origami cranes grants that person one wish, and people often send these cranes to those who suffer from illness or ill fortune in hope that their lives will improve. Through Sadako’s story, the folding of cranes has also become a symbol of world peace.
The UN cranes project was spearheaded by Kiyo Akasaka, a Japanese national and the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information. Mr. Akasaka said “this will be a very special commemorative gift for the Secretary-General to present during his visit to Hiroshima, symbolizing the strong wishes of the UN staff for world peace without nuclear weapons.”
UN staff members folded the cranes in their spare time, with two or three made by each person. “The message we’re trying to send to the Japanese people is we want peace. That’s what the UN is about, peace and stability, and we want to prevent things like [the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki] from happening anywhere in the future,” said staff member Natalia Samoilova, who worked on the project in New York.
The cranes also helped to bridge the gap between the UN and Japanese citizens, says Shinichi Kushima, another UN staff member who participated in the project in New York. “For me, as a Japanese, it’s great that the UN cares about us,” he said.
Moreover, the project engendered wide-ranging emotions in the UN staff members who helped fold paper cranes.
In addition to being “honoured to be invited to participate,” Ms. Samoilova said that “it was much fun. I never did origami before. I admire people who are very skilful at origami and at least to [learn] how to fold a crane – especially if it’s going to be part of this big garland – oh, I felt so happy.”
Edita Zunic, another staff member who folded cranes, said that “it was interesting how it made me contemplate what we can do in our daily life to send out these messages of peace, to spread positive energy. This is a really small, small, undertaking, folding one crane. But I think when we all get together you see we make 500 or 1,000 cranes. It symbolises that one person can really make a difference.”