May 24, 2018, Hinckley, Ohio – A township in north-central Ohio seems a long way from Mosul, Iraq, or from the refugee camps in northern Iraq. But these distant areas were recently connected by a Japanese girl who folded paper cranes, a Dominican artist and art teacher who painted paper cranes, an elementary school art teacher, and a class of compassionate and innovative fifth-grade students.
This connection can now be seen in three small paintings of folded paper cranes displayed in the library of Hinckley Elementary School in Hinckley, Ohio. The cranes were brought to the school through the innovation of a fifth-grade art class that raised more than their goal of 1,000 quarters – a total of nearly $364 – from their classmates as a donation to support the work of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Mosul, Iraq.
Katie Hatch Massaro, the art teacher at Hinckley Elementary School in Hinckley, Ohio, has for 10 years been teaching her students the story of 1,000 paper cranes folded by Sadako Saski, a 12-year-old Japanese girl who was exposed to the atomic bomb at Hiroshima and died of leukemia 10 years later. The heart-wrenching story of this young girl inspired Sister Barbara Cervenka, OP, to create 1,000 small paintings of paper cranes, which can be adopted for a donation of $100. The donations have helped the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena who fled Mosul with hundreds of thousands of their neighbors on August 6, 2014, with the arrival of ISIS warriors. During their time in a refugee camp in northern Iraq, the Sisters opened schools and clinics to serve the needs of their fellow refugees.
Many of the Sisters and other refugees have since returned to their homes after ISIS was expelled, but now face the challenges of rebuilding their homes and churches that were destroyed.
“I’ve been teaching about paper cranes for 10 years,” said Katie, a student of Sister Barbara’s and a 2007 graduate of Siena Heights University. She teaches her fifth-grade classes the story of Sadako and how to fold the paper cranes. In recent years, she has followed this lesson up with the story of Sister Barbara’s project. “We talked about what it meant to be a refugee,” she said. They understood that the Sisters and neighbors were forced out of their homes, and that the donations would help the people.
Katie didn’t initiate the idea of the class making a donation for a crane in support of the refugees. “I wanted the kids to be self-motivated” and to come up with the idea on their own, she said.
Her wait came to an end this semester when a student suggested making a donation for one of the paintings, Katie recalled. Students discussed the idea during lunch and a small group approached her. “I worked with them through the whole process,” she said, by encouraging them to find a way that they could raise the money on their own. Students decided to collect 1,000 quarters from among their fifth-grade classmates.
“The kids assigned jobs to everyone in the class and even built their own website,” Katie recalled. They created a presentation for the principal, James Carpenter, and the Parent-Teacher Organization to secure permission and garner support for the project. Just two weeks after they presented the project to their classmates, they had exceeded their goal. Because they wanted to add framing to their order, they intended to order two cranes, but the PTO suggested they order three – and offered to supplement the money that the students had raised.
The process did not end there, Katie added. The class took a vote to choose the cranes paintings they wanted, choosing green cranes to match the school’s color.
The students later reflected on the impact that the project had on them. “It was tough and challenging, but it was worth it,” one student said. Others spoke of the impact they hoped the project will have on the Sisters in Iraq and the people they serve. “It was a good opportunity to help people and inspire other students once we’ve left Hinckley Elementary School,” one student said. Another made the connection to the story of the 1,000 cranes folded in Japan and to Sister Barbara. “The inspiration chain goes from Sadako to her classmates to the 1,000 Crane Project for Iraq to us at Hinckley Elementary,” the student said. “We hope it keeps going!”
Katie is very proud of her fifth-grade class, which will graduate at the end of May from Hinckley Elementary School and move on to middle school. “I’ve always seen leadership and initiative in a lot of them,” she said. “It was a privilege to be able to walk them through this process and watch them stretch their wings for the first time.” Noting that she had taught art to that class since they were in kindergarten, she added, “It’s an honor to see them come as kindergartners and leave so grown up, young teenagers.”
Katie hopes all of her students benefit from their study of art. “I want them to leave me knowing that art can make a difference, that art is part of our culture. It’s part of our identity,” she said. “I want them to have an appreciation for art.”
Fifth-grade students from Hinckley Elementary School, Hinckley, Ohio, pose with the three cranes that they ordered with their donation to the 1,000 Cranes for Iraq Project. Photo Courtesy of Hinckley Elementary School
August 7, 2017, Erbil, Iraq – Sister Clara Nacy, Prioress of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Iraq, wrote to sisters and brothers in the Dominican family, and to their friends, on the anniversary of her community’s flight from ISIS on August 6, 2014. Since then, the community has been internally displaced in northern Iraq, striving each day to meet the material and spiritual needs of their fellow refugees.
August 6, 2017
Feast of Transfiguration
Dear brothers, sisters and friends,
It has been three years since we were displaced and you have been accompanying us through your prayers to endure the days of turmoil. During these years, we cried, screamed, wondered, questioned God and our faith and also laughed and found moments of hope, love and gratefulness to our Lord, the church and all individuals who supported us in so many different ways. On August 6, 2014, we entered a tunnel that we did not know when we would get out of it. In fact, some days we thought we would never see the light.
Three years ago we left our homes at night to the unknown. We started a journey of displacement, exile and questioning. But, to speak the truth, despite everything, we always dreamed of going back and finding our houses safe and sound, just as we left them. We strongly wished that we would return and kindle our candles for prayers, harvest our grapes, and read our books. We hoped even when we knew that it was our neighbors who betrayed us and did us harm even before ISIS did.
That was the case until the fall of 2016, when Iraqi forces started the military operations to liberate the Plain of Nineveh. God showered us with His graces as our towns were liberated one after the other; ISIS was defeated and the Plain of Nineveh seems to have been liberated.
When we first visited our Christian towns, we were so much stunned by the damage we saw. It was badly painful to see all that overwhelming destruction. We immediately realized that it was not the military forces or smart weapons that caused all that damage, but hate. Hate leaves both oppressed and oppressor deeply wounded. Only God knows how much love we need to heal these deep wounds.
Walking sluggishly in our Christian towns, we wondered remembering the word of God to prophet Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?” and we found ourselves answering him, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know,” (Ezekiel 37:3). Inspired by the stories and experiences of biblical characters, we believe that God is able to raise us again in a new way.
Today we see the marvelous work of God. There are some signs of hope. The rebuilding process, although slow, has started and some families have returned to their homes. In Batnaia, a town that was 90 percent destroyed, a process of cleaning has started. To Telskuf and Qaraqush, Christian towns, some families have returned and there are families returning every week.
There are over 600 families today in Telskuf and 450 in Qaraqush. Telskuf was much less destroyed than Qaraqush. Although in Qaraqush the amount of destruction is estimated to be 30 percent, rebuilding is not easy and the NGOs that have afforded to help with rebuilding are not enough compared to the destruction. There are 7,000 homes in Qaraqush and 2,400 of them are completely burned and another 4,400 are partly burned and destroyed. In addition, 116 houses are completely destroyed.
The hope is to repair as many houses as possible before the beginning of the school year in September, but of course there is a problem with the funding. So far only the church and some NGOs are doing the rebuilding.
Our sisters are back to Telskuf and we hope to find a place by the beginning of the year and will start a kindergarten. Soon also we will return to Qaraqush. Since our convent in Qaraqush is partially destroyed, we repaired a family home for us to live in it until we move back to our convent. Also, the orphanage was totally burned but we found a place for the sisters and girls to move too in Qaraqush.
As you probably already have heard, Mosul has been liberated, but the amount of destruction is overwhelming in every field. It will take years to be fixed, but there is nothing impossible with God.
Of course, it is not easy to decide whether to go back to Mosul or not. Some people still try to understand what the will of God is. If ISIS is defeated that does not mean that the Plain of Nineveh is entirely cleansed from that mentality. However, we as community decided to return with our people, and pray and hope all people will have the courage to go back to their hometowns and be able to start from the beginning again. God is with us and will not leave us.
We thank you for all the support you have shown us. Please pray for us as we start this new phase of our lives. Know of our gratitude and prayers for you.
Feature photo: Shrine of prophet Nahum in Alqosh, Iraq. Photo by Sister Frdos Zora, OP