Doing the ‘Wave’

Jamie Saxon

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This article was prepared for the March 2, 2005 issue of U.S. 1

Newspaper. All rights reserved.

‘Waves’ of Tsunami Relief

by Euna Kwon Brossman

When you talk about having a direct and profound effect on something

you can be said to be "making waves." And now volunteers throughout

the Princeton community are quite literally "making waves" to raise

money for the December 26 tsunami relief effort and to memorialize the

hundreds of thousands of who died.

The waves in this case are origami waves, folded by hand at libraries,

schools, religious centers, and community centers. The goal is to have

members of the community fold at least 150,000 waves, one for each

life lost in the disaster. A $1 contribution is suggested for each

wave folded, and all money collected will be donated to CARE USA’s

Earthquake and Tsunami Relief and Rehabilitation Fund. The next

origami event takes place Saturday, March 5, at the Arts Council of

Princeton, and events are planned throughout the area, culminating on

Saturday, April 23, at Communiversity, the annual town and gown

festival in downtown Princeton.

"The numbers boggle the mind," says Bonnie Bernstein, education

program director at the Cotsen Children’s Library on the Princeton

University campus, where the "Making Waves" project was born and

nurtured. "We can’t fathom numbers that large. We were all devastated

when some 3,000 Americans died at the World Trade Center on September

11. These numbers are exponential to us. But when you break it down to

one wave, one person, and you see so many waves folded, you get a

sense of the real dimension of the tragedy because there it is right

in front of you."

The "Making Waves" initiative harks back to a Japanese legend that

says that a person who folds a thousand paper cranes will live a long

life. A 12-year-old girl named Sadako, exposed to radiation in the

bombing of Hiroshima, began folding paper cranes from her hospital

bed, hoping to regain her health. She died before she finished, having

folded close to 700 paper cranes, and others took up her effort. Since

then, the folding of origami cranes has become an international symbol

of peace and compassion.

The inspiration of using paper waves as a variation on the paper crane

to raise money for tsunami victims sprang from a Young Artisan

Workshop held at the Cotsen Children’s Library in January, part of the

Rare Books and Special Collections Division housed in the Firestone

Library at Princeton University. Jennifer and Megan Kao, twin sisters

who are students at Grover Middle School in West Windsor, were leading

a workshop on origami paper folding when another child came in with a

half-folded origami wave and wanted help finishing it.

‘I don’t think she was consciously trying to fold a tsunami," says

Bernstein, "but unconsciously she had made the connection and she was

intrigued. We’re doing this to remind ourselves that each life is

precious. I’ve seen the thousands of cranes in the Peace Park in

Hiroshima, and every year children throughout the world create these

crane garlands and drape them over the statue of Sadako. It’s moving

to see these thousands of objects. I see the origami not just as the

individual object but as a collective display of individually folded

paper that takes time and care."

Bernstein says there is a certain beauty in watching people come

together to fold. "They chat and make friends. It’s a community

building project in itself because it helps us come together to

remember another community that needs our help."

Bernstein grew up in northern New Jersey and graduated from the

Jonathan Dayton Regional High School in Springfield. Her father ran a

series of small family businesses and her mother was a travel agent. A

graduate of Wesleyan University in Connecticut, she’s been part of the

Cotsen Library’s education and outreach effort for the last seven

years. Her husband, Hank Dobin, is associate dean of the college at

Princeton University.

Community service is very much in her family’s blood. Her younger son,

Noah Dobin-Bernstein, will be a junior at Yale in the fall when he

returns from a year off. He worked on the presidential campaign and

has been traveling in South America. Older son Dan Dobin-Bernstein

graduated from Emory University last year and is working in

Washington, D.C., for a nonprofit agency called College Summit. The

program helps high school students identified as needing assistance in

applying for college.

After a February 8 kick-off event, "Making Waves" generated 500 more

folded pieces of origami and $350 was raised at an event at the Cotsen

Library on February 12. "It’s going to take many of these kinds of

events," says Bernstein. "We’re starting to hear from community

groups, the Human Resources Council in West Windsor, McCaffrey’s.

We’re hoping to see more of these business community partnerships."

Bernstein is hoping that the "Making Waves" movement will take on a

grassroots energy and gain momentum. She acknowledges the support and

involvement of individuals who are making a difference, people like

Princeton resident Nicole Katz, who has loaned part of a private

origami exhibit once displayed at the Natural History Musuem in New

York for display at the Frist Campus Center. She lauds Katz’ daughter,

Sarah, a Princeton Day School student, who has been helping as a

folding instructor at the Princeton Senior Resource Center.

Bernstein says that Jane Reeves, a member of Origami USA, a local

chapter of the national paper-folding association, simply showed up

one day at the library to volunteer. A skilled folder, she spent an

entire day folding and teaching others how. "We’re all learning about

the art of another culture," says Bernstein, "and that’s why we’re

getting such wonderful participation."

There is Keiko Ono, a Japanese language instructor at Princeton

University and also a teacher at the Princeton Japanese School, who,

along with Tara McGowan, a Princeton graduate, artist, and storyteller

and frequent presenter at Cotsen, have taught parents how to fold at

the Japanese school. Those parents in turn will volunteer at various

folding events throughout the community. "We’re hoping that folding

activities take place everywhere – at sleepovers, at birthday parties,

shopping centers, schools, libraries. We’re not just using origami

paper. The waves stand up better if they’re made of copier paper and

we’re trying to use the brightest colors we can."

Each venue has provided paper for folding. People who are coming to

fold are encouraged to bring origami paper as well. "A wave is not an

easy object to fold but with step-by-step instructions everybody can

do it in five minutes," says Bernstein. The organization is looking

for donations to cover some of the additional folding. "We’ll have to

turn people into folding machines if we want to reach our goal so

we’ll be looking for monetary contributions to reach the corresponding

dollar amounts."

She says everyone doesn’t have to contribute money, especially at the

schools – another reason why they have to look for outside donations.

"We want to make sure that everybody can participate whether or not

they can contribute the dollars. We want them to fold. It’s a

community effort and however you can contribute is valued."

As the waves are made some are stored in boxes at the Cotsen Library.

Others are put on display at places like the Frist Center where

display cases show the waves piling up. There are art installations

planned around town. Artist Heather Barrows will design an

installation at the Princeton Public Library showcasing the waves as

they’re made. And at the culmination of "Making Waves" at

Communiversity on April 23, there will be a booth for wavefolding and

a display as well.

Bernstein encourages everyone to come out and help. Whether you are 5

or 95, it’s a way to get involved, make a difference, and have fun.

"Many of the kids take particular pleasure in mastering the folding

technique and sharing it with others," Bernstein says.

"I think they enjoy being part of something big. Children often get

left out of fundraising efforts because it’s hard to for them to do

something significant. Origami folding is something everybody can do.

We’ve got four and five-year-olds folding whales and boats with a

little bit of help. It’s elegant."

Top Of Page
Doing the ‘Wave’

‘Making Waves," a series of origami folding events to raise funds for

the December 26 tsunami relief effort include the following venues.

For information on organizing a "Making Waves" event on your own or in

conjunction with a school or organization, visit the or E-mail

Saturday, March 5, 2 to 3:30 p.m, Arts Council of Princeton, 102

Witherspoon Street.

Thursday, March 10, 12:30 p.m., Princeton Senior Resource Center,

Suzanne Patterson Center, 45 Stockton Street.

Saturday, March 19, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Princeton University Art


Saturday, March 19, 1 to 5 p.m., McCaffrey’s, 335 Princeton-Hightstown

Rd., West Windsor.

Saturday, April 2, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Princeton Public Library 65

Witherspoon Street.

Saturday, April 23, noon to 4 p.m., Communiversity, downtown


Top Of Page
Jamie Saxon

On December 26, 2004, I awoke in the cocoon of my sister’s guest room

bed, a place I sleep better than anywhere in the world. The aroma of

freshly-ground politically-correct Guatamalan coffee reached me,

buried under mountains of covers. If this wasn’t the bosom of my

family, my family has no bosom.

I padded past the Christmas tree into the kitchen where my sister and

brother-in-law were glued to the laptop. "There’s been a tsunami," my

sister said, "and 50,000 people are dead." Little did we know that

that number of dead and missing would rise in the days and weeks to

come to close to 290,000 in 11 different countries.

In the ensuing days, I became secretly obsessed with the tsunami,

stealing away to the convenience store at the end of my street to

supposedly buy milk, but really I devoured People and Time and

Newsweek. I read about over-achieving 11-year-olds who had bakes sales

and car washes, all to contribute $300 to relief efforts. I assigned a

story about a group of Princeton-area cultural organizations and

schools holding a series of events to raise $150,000 by making 150,000

origami "waves of relief," a touching twist on the Japanese thousand

paper cranes legend (see page 34).

Clearly someone was writing checks but it wasn’t me. I was still

reeling from the story about the Australian father who tied his kids

to tree branches with beach towels to save them from the tsunami and

the NPR story I heard about a makeshift orphanage set up for children

who had lost both parents. How could my measly $50 or $100 donation do

anything? I was frozen with guilt and frustration.

Then on January 19, I received an E-mail from Trudi Rohla, my former

boss at Rohla Communications and Dick Clark Corporate Productions, the

PR and corporate events companies she used to head up in Carnegie

Center in the late 1980s. Rohla, now Trudi Behr, lives in Los Angeles.

In her E-mail she wrote: "Here is what is up with me – after the

tsunami I couldn’t stand it. Volunteered at the International Medical

Corps, which happens to have its HQ in Santa Monica. Within 20 minutes

I got HIRED and am donating my salary back. I mean, how can you bitch

about anything (like all this sucky rain we’ve had) when all you are

dealing with is people who lost everything in seconds – everything."

She continued to send me E-mails about IMC. On February 5, she wrote,

"Unlike other aid organizations like Doctors Without Borders that

swoop in to help in an emergency and then leave, IMC stays. Our goal

is not only to provide immediate relief, but to help rebuild and

restore that which has been lost. Training is an essential component

of our work as we believe success is realized only when the local

population is able to resume caring for their own."

She attached a February 2 field report from Neil Joyce, an MD who is

working in the severely damaged central teaching hospital in Banda

Aceh, the most hard-hit region in Sumatra. "The only way we are going

to get more Acehnese doctors here is to train them," writes Joyce.

"Unfortunately 65 of 220 senior medical students have lost either

their homes or a parent. These students cannot continue their studies

as they have no place to live and cannot afford school living

expenses. The University Medical School has waived their tuition but

the students still need to find a way to live while they are doing

their clinical clerkships." He explains that just $1,000 will support

a medical student for a year.

In a February 16 press release, Nancy Aossey, IMC’s CEO states:

"Approximately 80 percent of Banda Aceh’s healthcare workers were

killed in the tsunami. If these students can finish their studies, for

the next 30 or 40 years they will be the pillars of the restored

healthcare system in this devastated area." Two days earlier, on

February 14, USA Today published a profile of Aossey that tells how

she "shepherded (IMC) from three-employee start-up (in 1985) to

$100-million plus relief organization with a staff of roughly 8,000

working around the globe."

On February 23 Behr E-mailed me government statistics showing that the

number of displaced people in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Maldives,

Malaysia, Somalia, and Seychelles has topped 1 million, making the

need for trained medical care all the more fervent.

Behr’s E-mails had penetrated my frozen state. I realized why I hadn’t

written a check. I couldn’t see where my money was going. Learning

about the work of IMC, along with the validity factor that Behr

provided, reassured me that my money will go to help a real person – a

medical student who will receive training or perhaps a child who comes

to that teaching hospital in need of medical care.

Donations of $1,000 (or aggregates of $1,000 by a group) can be

earmarked to support a medical student. Donations in any amount are

also welcome to help support the work of IMC. Visit or E-mail Trudi Behr at

— Jamie Saxon

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