[TOKYO, JAPAN, 26 December 2011]
The UNICEF Prayer Tree Project was created as a way to ensure that the prayers made by people across Japan reach those in the Tohoku region on their first Christmas following the disaster, and in order to deliver “smiles” to the face of children in the affected areas.
A group of 2,000 professional designers and arts college students from numerous different corporations and universities gathered to make three ornaments each; the first ornament was used at one of the five tree locations in Tokyo, the second was presented to people kind enough to offer donations and the third presented to children in the affected areas. These big Christmas trees have been on display and the ornament present campaign underway since November, but now that December is upon us it is time to present these ornaments directly to the children of the Tohoku region.
On two separate occasions, 5 December and 12 December, volunteers, project staff and Japan Committee for UNICEF (JCU) staff donned in blue Santa hats acted as “UNICEF Santas” and visited a total of 15 preschools, kindergartens and other locations in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures.
UNICEF Santas assisted children create ornaments to decorate the tree before Christmas. First, the children selected the shape of ornament that they wanted to make. There were five different types: a reindeer, house, ball, tree and boots. Next, they cut out white cardboard along the lines to form the shape of their ornament. The board was made so that the children would be able to easily cut out the shape, but putting the paper together was not so easy. The volunteers worked together with the children to help them finish their ornaments, and when they did the children let out cheers of satisfaction in their new creations. Next, the children colored the white cardboard ornaments, drew pictures, and affixed origami and stickers to them, decorating them in any way they wish. Some children drew very intricate pictures, while others drew pictures of Santa Clause and others signed their ornaments and showed their proud finished product to the UNICEF Santas. The smiles of pure joy on the children’s faces proved contagious, and soon the volunteers and preschool teachers were smiling and laughing along with the children.
Finally, the children decorated the tree with the ornaments that they created and the ornaments presented by the professional designers. Each preschool and kindergarten was able to create a tree rich with its own unique character and appeal.
In addition to the schools visited by this group of UNICEF Santas, ornaments crafted at the hands of 2,000 volunteers were delivered to 16 different kindergartens and preschools as well as four Christmas parties held for children from Fukushima Prefecture that are living as evacuees in Saitama and Kanagawa Prefectures.
More than 975 children participated in ornament making activities and over 100 volunteers served as UNICEF Santas. This Christmas children affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake received ornaments created for the special purpose of ensuring that they enjoy the holidays, and were even given the opportunity to try making ornaments themselves.
All photo credits: © Japan Committee for UNICEF