The classroom was quiet when Alison Lockhart arrived on Thursday afternoon.
Twenty-eight students were bent over small squares of patterned paper, their fingers moving quickly to fold the thin sheets into paper cranes.
Just 300 to go.
“It was amazing to see,” said Lockhart.
The paper cranes — 2,000 in all — were folded for Lockhart’s daughter, Amy Lee Croft, as she battles leukemia.
Inspired by a Postmedia story about Lockhart’s campaign to collect 1,000 paper cranes for her daughter, the Grade 5/6 class at Brantford Elementary in Burnaby put a lesson about empathy into practice.
“It’s something I’ll never forget,” said student teacher Wilson Chu.
In November, Chu, a 23-year-old Simon Fraser University student was teaching a novel study about Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes when the classroom teacher, Mick Cole, read the article about Lockhart’s campaign.
The Victoria woman was hoping to collect donations and well wishes for Croft, 32, as she recovered from a blood stem cell transplant at Vancouver General Hospital. She planned to write the wishes on origami paper and fold them into cranes, although she’d only received 89.
Cole’s class had already folded about 600 paper birds as a team-building exercise, using an assembly line as they became quicker and quicker.
Cole and Chu reached out to Lockhart before asking the students if they’d like to donate their cranes to her cause. When the group of 10 and 11-year-olds learned about Croft, they kicked into high gear, producing 1,000 more cranes in just a few days. They began bringing in paper from home and teaching friends to make the origami birds. They collected them in baskets of 100 at the front of the classroom.
“We try to teach the students to think outside the four walls of the school,” said Cole. “Suddenly, those cranes had a purpose.”
When they learned Lockhart would be coming to pick up the cranes on Thursday, the class made a new goal — 2,000 cranes.
It takes Chu about two-and-a-half minutes to make one crane. He estimated that many of the students could produce them even faster. Together, they folded the last 300 cranes in under an hour.
“I told the students that these cranes are magical because they’re full of hope,” said Lockhart after receiving the cranes.
Croft was diagnosed with acutelymphoblasticleukemia at Victoria General Hospital on March 9. She was flown to VGH to begin chemotherapy two hours later.
Since then, she’s been in and out of hospital. She and her husband Joshua have rented a suite near VGH.
On Nov. 7, Croft had a blood stem cell transplant after three rounds of radiation. She must now remain in isolation at the hospital until her immune system begins to recover. It’s likely she’ll be in the hospital over Christmas.
Lockhart was looking for a way to encourage her daughter when she attended a reunion with a group of friends she had met during an exchange to Japan when she was 16. The event caused her to recall the origami cranes she received as a gift while studying abroad.
“A group of five Japanese elementary school students presented me with 1,000 origami cranes, strung on thread,” she said.
She’s treasured the paper birds since then. When the thread broke, she put them in a large bowl on her coffee table, where they stayed through Croft’s childhood.
Traditionally, it was believed that if someone folded 1,000 paper cranes, their wish would come true. The birds became a symbol of hope and healing after a Japanese girl, Sadako Sasaki, started folding cranes after contracting leukemia following the A-bombing of Hiroshima during the Second World War. As the story goes, Sasaki died before completing the cranes, but her friends finished the project to honour her memory.
Lockhart created a Facebook fundraiser called 1,000 origami cranes for Amy Lee. So far, she’s collected just over $5,000 to help her daughter with expenses as she continues treatment in Vancouver. She’s asking anyone who donates to include a message that she can transcribe onto origami paper and then fold into a crane.
She’s also asking people to consider becoming a blood stem cell donor by registering with Canadian Blood Services.
The mother plans to take a photograph of the 2,000 cranes to show to Croft. She’ll also read the well wishes the students penned to her daughter. Over Christmas, she hopes to string all the cranes on a chain to hang in Croft’s home when she is eventually released from hospital.
“I feel filled with hope right now,” she said.