World Peace may seem like an impossible goal, but Kazumi Tinant is tackling this global challenge with tiny pieces of paper.
The seeds of her interest started when her family moved to Hiroshima, which on Aug. 6, 1945, was the target of a U.S. nuclear bomb that would lead to the end of World War II.
“When I was 10 years old, I moved from Osaka (Japan) to Hiroshima,” she said. “My parents took me to see the Memorial Peace Park and Museum in Hiroshima.”
Tinant, who now lives in Rapid City, was deeply impacted by the artifact exhibits and descriptions of the nuclear explosion that killed tens of thousands of Japanese.
“I was scared and couldn’t believe what I saw. I couldn’t sleep for a couple of days,” she said.
Through the exhibit, Tinant learned about another young Hiroshima resident, Sadako Sasaki, who survived the 1945 blast at the age of two, but consequently contracted leukemia (called “atomic bomb disease” by some because of increased diagnosis after radiation exposure).
After hearing the ancient legend of folding 1,000 origami paper cranes to make a wish come true, Sadako began folding cranes hoping to prolong her life. She folded over 1,000 of them before succumbing to her illness in 1955 at age 12, another casualty of the nuclear war.
A statue of the young girl holding a golden folded crane stands in the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park in honor of her memory. Large glass cases have been placed around the statue, displaying millions of paper cranes folded by children from all around the world.
Tinant stayed in Hiroshima after college and taught preschool in Japan, where Peace Education was part of the curriculum. She then joined the Peace Corps, met and married an American, and moved to Rapid City.
“After our daughter, Sako, was born, I wanted to teach Hiroshima’s atomic bomb story to children using a simple story,” she said.
Two years ago, Tinant got her chance: she taught Sadako’s story and the paper origami crane technique to her daughter’s third-grade class at Pinedale Elementary in Rapid City. That summer, Tinant and Sako traveled to Hiroshima and took the third graders’ cranes to the Peace Park Memorial.
Motivated by the students’ enthusiastic participation, Tinant expanded her lesson plans and approached Sako’s Pinedale Elementary fourth-grade teacher last fall.
“Mrs. Kamarainen already knew Sadako’s story and was excited to introduce Japanese culture, origami and Sadako’s story,” Tinant said. “She and I invited all of the fourth-grade students to watch a movie about Sadako, 'On the Crane.'”
The students responded to the message of peace with appreciation and were excited to learn more.
“Kazumi brings a unique perspective to students,” said Laura Kamarainen. “(Over several months) she taught the kids about Japanese culture and history, and then culminated with showing them how to fold cranes, a symbol they took seriously. Students were scrambling to find anything to fold into cranes. It wasn’t something we just did in class. They would fold as many as they could at home, too.”
Tinant’s overall goal was for students to learn more than just a new artistic skill.
“What we can think we should put into action to change our attitude towards daily life,” she said. “Then when the young people become adults they will have a peaceful mindset to help their sense of value and promote world peace.”
“The idea that peace can begin inside our classroom and spread worldwide — the kids really latched onto that,” Kamarainen said.
Before the final wrap-up, Tinant gathered the students around and held up long strings tied thickly with brightly colored paper cranes.
“I will take your paper cranes to Japan and show Japanese elementary schools your effort. I’ll talk to them about peace and this exchange peace project,” she said.
As the children enjoyed a last look at their tiny creations, Tinant reminded them of the project’s lasting impact. “If you remember folding the cranes and show others how to do it throughout your life, you are already peace messengers. We can have no more nuclear bombs in this world: little by little, one by one.”
This past summer, Tinant put all 1,788 cranes made by the Pinedale Elementary School children in her suitcase and brought them to Japan. Sako Tinant’s elementary summer school in Hiroshima accepted the cranes, impressed that American children made origami cranes for peace. The principal also contacted the Hiroshima newspaper, which ran an article about the American children’s peace activity of folding cranes.
Kazumi Tinant would like to coordinate her lessons and message of peace with other elementary, middle and high school classrooms around the Black Hills. For more information, visit forestkidspreschool.com.