Science, Tech & Environment

Helping Japan from Massachusetts

By Katy Clark

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This is a time of high anxiety for the many Japanese citizens living inside and outside the country.

That's certainly true for the dozens of Japanese families whose children are enrolled at the Amos Lawrence Elementary School in Brookline, Massachusetts.

The lobby of the Lawrence School is busy with parents dropping off their sons and daughters. Many pause briefly to ask after family and friends in Japan.

With around 60 Japanese students enrolled here … plus a large alumni network … everyone seems to know someone feeling the affects of the earthquake. That includes P.T.O board member Ikei Kobayashi.

"My side of the family is okay, but my husband's side lives between Tokyo and Sendai. So we are really really scared about radiation," Kobayashi said. "We recommend that they evacuate to the west side of the country, but they said they have no gasoline, they can't do anything."

She said all they can do is pray that there's no more disaster.

Kobayashi's doing more than just praying, though. She and other parents are raising money to help with the quake relief effort. They've collected more than $6,500 so far in part through bake sales. Japanese rice balls have been one of the most popular items.

Teacher, Akiko Kawai-Marbet said that the school doesn't know yet what it will do with the money. But that's almost secondary.

"What's so nice is that having these fund raisers gives us an opportunity for the Japanese community to get together and hear about families," She added. "American families or other families in the Lawrence School are coming to ask us how we're doing, and they're showering us with such warm words."

She said it's a healing process.

The American families are also benefiting. Carie Leung said some of her son's best friends have been the Japanese students at the Lawerence School. She's designed a lapel pin made out of floral-patterned ribbon that's also being sold at the school.

"It's a plum blossom," said Leung. "And the reason for it is the plum blossom is a spring flower, so it shows hope." The black ribbon on the back, she said, "recognises the disaster that's happening right now."

Ties to Japan run deep here at the Lawrence School. Many of the Japanese students here spend several years in the Boston area while their parents study or do research. The Lawrence School also sends a teacher to Japan for a week each fall.

Soon the school will be sending money, and a thousand origami cranes, too.

"Japanese people believe if we build 1,000 cranes, one of our wishes will come true," Akiko Kawai-Marbet said. "It's also a symbol for world peace. And so we're building cranes as we speak."

She said she's not sure where the cranes will be donated just yet. She hopes, though, that they'll go to a school in the Sendai area.

For now, building paper cranes and selling baked goods is a project everyone here's getting involved with. If nothing else, it's a way to keep their hands busy while their hearts are thousands of miles away.