By Kathy Kelly
Special to PalestineChronicle.com
At a small, informal school in the basement of a church in Amman, many strings of colorful paper cranes bedeck walls and windows. The school serves children whose families have fled Iraq. Older children who come to the school understand the significance of the crane birds. Claudia Lefko, of Northampton, Mass., who helped initiate the school, told them Sadako’s story. The Japanese child survived the bombing of Hiroshima, but suffered from radiation sickness. In a Japanese hospital, she wanted to fold 1,000 origami crane birds, believing that by doing so she could be granted a special wish: hers was that no other child would ever suffer as she did. Sadako died before completing the task she’d set for herself, but Japanese children then folded many thousands more cranes, and the story has been told for decades in innumerable places, making the delicate paper cranes a symbol for peace throughout the world.
On this Aug. 6, children who’ve recently joined the informal school in Amman will learn Sadako’s story.
Having survived war, death threats, and displacement, they may be particularly aware of the enormous challenge represented by Sadako’s wish.
Words to the song "Little Girl of Hiroshima" are on my mind today, thinking of the Iraqi children who have not survived:
"I come and stand at every door
But none shall hear my silent tread
I knock and yet remain unseen
For I am dead, for I am dead."
The song goes on to tell of a child who needs no bread, nor even wheat, milk, or water, for she is dead. She only asks for peace,
"So that the children of the world
can run and dance and laugh and play."
A year ago, the space where the Iraqi children gather was grim and decrepit. The Jordanian parish priest invited volunteers from the community of Iraqis living in the area to help create a place where their children could meet for lessons and games. Several families responded and set about hauling debris out of the rooms, long unused, that had once housed monks in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Walls were sanded and painted, windows were installed, and a garden they planted is now in full bloom. Thirty-five children gather for two hours a day, five days a week, under the careful supervision of a few adults in the community. It’s a hopeful spot.
When I visited the school several times a week, earlier this year, two of the children, Carom and Carla, were listless and withdrawn. In the past few weeks, I’ve loved watching little Carla run to join a team playing tug-of-war, proudly accept a marker and solve simple math problems in front of the class, and actively engage in cooperative games. Her brother races faster than any of the other children his age, and he fills his notebook with careful writing.
How fortunate that these two children escaped the fate of so many Iraqi children now represented by the little girl of Hiroshima, those whose silent tread will never be heard.
Claudia Lefko works to raise money for the school. For every $35 dollars she raises, we might guess the Pentagon raises $35 million. Billions, perhaps trillions will be spent to send weapons, weapon systems, fighter jets, ammunition, and military support to the region, fueling new arms races and raising the profits of U.S. weapon makers.
Aug. 6, Hiroshima Day, marks the time when the United States ushered the world into an age threatened by weapons of horrific mass destruction, spawning the terrible arms race that marked the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Now, as the nightmare of war in Iraq steadily worsens, Aug. 6 also marks a new round of Occupation Project activities. The Occupation Project is a campaign called for by Voices for Creative Nonviolence and endorsed by Veterans for Peace, Code Pink, Declaration of Peace, and the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance, among others.
The action involved is simple. Activists assemble in the offices of elected representatives, prepared to read aloud or to chant the names of Iraqis and Americans who have been killed since the U.S. invaded Iraq. They bring with them articles that help analyze how U.S. wealth and U.S. lives are being used to protect war profiteers and extend the arm of U.S. military might.
We can never reverse the decisions to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nor can we ever adequately explain to children the vicious patterns of our ongoing wars.
The song about "The Little Girl of Hiroshima" imagines a child who comes and stands at every door, unheard and unseen. In reality, we can go to the doors of elected representatives – we can be heard and seen. We can learn from past experiences and, as we commemorate the loss of innocent lives, bolster efforts to stop warmakers from constantly gaining the upper hand in our lives. I can think of no better place to announce our determination than inside the offices of those who, as elected lawmakers, can affect future military spending. Please, if you have not already done so, visit the Voices for Creative Nonviolence Web site and consider ways to participate in the Occupation Project during these crucial weeks before the Senate and House of Representatives vote on more spending for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
-Kathy Kelly is co-founder of Voices in the Wilderness and a three-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.