Japanese Students and Ukrainian Children Connect Through Origami Cranes: Hiroshima Bunka Gakuen University, Department of Children’s Studies
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has put not only adults but also many children in a very difficult situation. To help these children, around 50 students and faculty from the Department of Child Studies at Hiroshima Bunka Gakuen University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences started a fundraising campaign.
Even before the invasion, the department had connections with children in Ukraine. Faculty member Ito Shun got to know Ukrainians when supporting disaster-stricken areas after the Great East Japan Earthquake and even visited Ukraine. He helped organize penpal exchanges and online cultural exchange events between department members and Ukrainian children. With Ukraine’s affinity for Japan and the many students there studying Japanese, language barriers were not an issue.
We talked to Sugamoto Miku, a third-year student in the department, about her experience interacting with Ukrainian children.
Through interacting with Ukrainian children, Sugamoto came to think more deeply about peace.
“At first, I was at a loss as to how to interact with children from another country whose language I didn’t understand. But as I held the carefully made Christmas cards the children sent and saw their smiles online, my feelings changed. There were funny kids who made everyone laugh and shy ones, too. Each child had a unique personality and way of expressing themselves, no different from Japanese children,” Sugamoto says.
When the invasion began, the foremost concern of Ito and other faculty members was the mental wellbeing of students. They focused on ensuring that students could continue their university life calmly. At the same time, they wanted to support the students’ desire to help the children. To this end, a group of volunteer students and faculty members started an executive committee to launch a fundraising campaign for children in Ukraine.
In their fundraising efforts, the students wanted to do something that would involve local people and children. They set up a dedicated account for donations and offered origami cranes in jars as a ‘thank you’ to donors, encouraging local people and children to participate by folding cranes.
“Since I’m from Hiroshima, I’ve received peace education and folded lots of cranes since I was little. I think that’s why when I heard about the fundraising drive my seniors started, my friends and I naturally started folding cranes together.” says Sugamoto.
Christmas cards received from Ukrainian children
Fundraising efforts weren’t limited to the university. Elementary and junior high schools and individuals inside and outside the prefecture participated, folding blue and yellow origami cranes, the colors of the Ukrainian flag, and sending them to the committee. The activity gained significant attention, being featured in newspapers and on television many times. Over ¥2 million was raised, exceeding initial expectations. The funds were used to send boots for firefighters and medical equipment to Ukraine for the rescue of children.
“After that, we received photos of smiling children from Ukraine. The situation there is dire, but I feel good knowing we could help even a little. Through this experience, I’ve come to realize that it’s not enough to just observe; even small actions can make a difference, and I’m committed to doing what I can,” says Sugamoto.
The executive committee says their next mission is to ensure that this initiative doesn’t end with the current student members but is passed on to their juniors. Sugamoto says she hopes the heartfelt connection between Ukrainian children and Japanese students will continue far into the future.
Hiroshima Bunka Gakuen University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Department of Child Studies
* The fundraising campaign is still ongoing. Return gifts are not being sent at this time.
Inquiries about fundraising: 082-239-5171 (handled by Ito and Yamanaka)
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