We had the good fortune of connecting with Sara Lea and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sara, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
I am a full time high school social studies teacher…not a business person. I had a difficult journey in life in 2019, followed by all of us experiencing 2020 in our own way. I knew I needed to find an outlet / hobby so that I wouldn’t be so consumed in the negativity that was surrounding me. But like many things, my story was by fluke and I really wasn’t ever thinking I would be an entrepreneur. The seeds of Peace Crane Creations was planted in 2013 when I traveled to Japan and met Mr. Ito. The Japan Society of New York sponsored an Educators’ Study Tour for teachers to go to Japan in 2013. 10 teachers from around the United States were selected to participate, and I was fortunate to be one of those teachers. The tour visited a wide range of cities: from Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima, Aichi, Wakayama, and Fukushima. My most poignant memory was not going to a particular Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine, visiting various schools, museums or eating the world’s best sushi; it was when we met Mr. Ito in Hiroshima. Mr. Ito, a Hibakusha (survivor of the A-bomb), truly changed my perspective on humanity and the power of the human spirit. In this letter, I will try to convey the magnitude of how his story and message has changed me to reflect on finding forgiveness in my heart and what the true meaning of peace means. The morning prior to meeting Mr. Ito, we walked around the Hiroshima Peace Park looking at the different memorials, trying to understand the horrific event on August 6, 1945. Each teacher as part of the study tour was asked to implement a lesson plan to our peers so that we would have different components and perspectives to take back to our classroom about the country of Japan. Some taught us about rice farming, others had a specific shrine or temple, one gave the history of the Edo Period and another did Kabuki theater. I gave the history behind the “Peace Dome” in Hiroshima. Not sure how I was going to go about doing this in a creative manner as this day in WWII is so impactful, I decided to go with a different approach. Teach my peers how to fold origami cranes outside of the Peace Dome which is a symbol of peace for the Japanese culture. Once we walked the park and museum, we went in a small intimate room of the museum, where we knew we were going to be meeting a Hibakusha and hear his speech that was entitled “I Survived Two Ground Zeros”. Even before meeting Mr. Ito, our hearts were heavy, and our spirits were filled with sadness and sorrow. When we met Mr. Ito, I could immediately feel a sense of calmness in his demeanor. Knowing this man had witnessed such atrocities in his past that no human should ever see in their lifetime, was already an overwhelming feeling to walk into. I was not sure what I was going to hear with his story, but I knew this moment would be very poignant. He began by sharing his memory of August 6, 1945. His memories 70 years later were vivid and heart wrenching. His story began with his brother who was 12 at the time of the bombing. He died a month later due to radiation sickness. (Of course, there is much more to his story, and if I ever get the opportunity, I would love to tell you more of his story.) Then Mr. Ito began his story of his own experience at the age of 10. Mr. Ito’s elementary school was one of the few structures standing, serving as a makeshift hospital for survivors. He would grate fresh vegetables over the people’s skin to cool them or clean blisters that were infested with maggots. He had to decide who looked like they might have a chance of surviving and attend to their needs with higher priority, as well as having to help dig mass graves for those not as lucky to survive. Keep in mind that after the bomb was dropped, it created so much heat (7000 degrees), that people’s skin was melting off their bones. I couldn’t even begin to fathom how much pressure, guilt and chaos this 10-year-old must have been feeling. As he described his memory, it made me reflect on the power of people’s actions and the impact they have over people’s lives and history. I had a very heavy heart and was philosophizing internally about humanity – the world – where this has led us – where we as a world with nuclear weapons – my existential thoughts were overwhelmingly flooding my mind. I thought after he shared his horrific vivid memory with us, of his brother and his experience, we were done. Nope…we were only half done. “I Survived Two Ground Zeros” was the title of his presentation, so there was more to be told. He shared how his life changed after growing up in Hiroshima and how Japan changed as a country all the while he was growing into a young man. He met a woman, they married and had two sons. Life was becoming normal as time passed. His eldest son Kazushige was working for Fuji Bank. He came home with exciting news that he was being transferred with a promotion to New York City. Mr. Ito shared in his excitement. Yet on September 11, 2001, that excitement died when the second twin tower was struck by flight #175 crashing between the 77th and 85th floors (Fuji Bank was located on the 81st floor). He shared his memory of feeling so isolated and helpless. He and his wife were able to fly to New York a week later and begin the frantic search for Kazushige, but even to this day his remains are unidentifiable. As we all sat in the room (many who were from NYC themselves), we were silent; wiping tears and trying to take it all in. Yet through all of Mr. Ito’s tragedies, he was able to find forgiveness in his heart and advocate to bring peace by sharing his experiences. Mr. Ito is truly the epitome of what kindness means. Later that night we met up with his family (his wife and their youngest son, and his wife and their son). We ate at a hibachi style restaurant with a Japanese family of 3 generations, and had a fantastic time eating, sharing stories and drinking lots of sake. At the end of the evening, his grandson had us all folding origami peace cranes. Mr. Ito told us that he shares his story and asks those who hear it to help spread peace around the world. He also said that being teachers, we have an important message to share to our youth: the message of Hope, Love, and Peace. He left us with a wish “Please treasure the life that is given to you. It is my belief that my small paper crane will enable you to understand other people’s feelings as if they were your own. I hope by talking about the small wish for peace, the small ripple will become bigger and bigger.” That day was one of the more poignant moments in my life, that I will cherish forever. To pass on Mr. Ito’s peace in my own personal way, I make friends, family, my students, members of my church – anyone really, strings of origami peace cranes. These strings of cranes have reached Sadako Sasaki’s brother, his son (Sadako’s nephew), Mr. Clifton Truman Daniel (grandson of President Harry Truman), Officer Mitchell (Survivor of a kamikaze attack in WWII), Ellen, President Obama, and Aaron Rodgers. My hope is when people hang their cranes in a spot that reminds them of their inner peace and love. I sell my cranes, so that I can give away my cranes to those who need peace in their world – to give them comfort and that they can be apart of the ripple of peace this world needs. So after my own inner struggles I needed to face on in 2019, followed by Covid in 2021, I began allowing my creativity out. I found I need to be using my hands with my creativity, and started making more things than origami peace cranes. I also make unique, fun and funky jewelry such as river cairns, malas and earrings. I started to share and sell my work to those interested. Peace Cranes took off, and now I participate in fairs, open air markets, in home parties as well as showing my work of at Etsy, Facebook & Instagram. I’m really am enjoying and allowing this adventure to lead the way.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I have the best job in the world being a high school social studies teacher (though right now I won’t lie, it has been difficult teaching through the challenges of Covid). I teach primary AP Human Geography, Geography, Asian Humanities and Psychology. These courses have really allowed me to help my students discover who they are as well as their significance in being a positive influence in humanity, as well as given me opportunities to travel the world on several educational trips. My hope is to instill knowledge, guidance, curiosity and inspiration to my students. My own world travels and meeting different people around the world has allowed me to bring an even more personable component to my lessons. My journey wasn’t easy, I was diagnoses being dyslexic later in life and had many struggles internally as well as educationally. I worked with Ann Gmeiner Heinrich in overcoming my learning differences, throughout college. As a teacher, I share my personal triumphs and tribulations as well as stories of people I’ve meet along my path so that I can challenge my students in a safe and fun environment so that they too know they matter in the world we all share.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Welcome to Fort Collins, Colorado, a little place on this spec of sand (earth) I call utopia! We’re going to wake up early as there is too much to do in our town. First up, we are going to drive up to Horsetooth. I will give you a choice of paddle boarding on the reservoir or doing a hiking trip up to Horsetooth Rock to watch the sun rise as we sit on the actual “tooth” of the mountain. Next we’re going to go to the Howling Cafe and have some of the best chocolate milk from Moring Fresh Dairy while we sit out on the patio, and we can eat lemon Noosa yogurt too if we have it in us. Later that night I have to take you to CooperSmiths to eat their famous Coops burger (make sure you order extra artichoke dip for your burger) and to keep the Horsetooth theme alive for our day, we will order a pitcher of Horsetooth Stout to compliment our dinner. Tomorrow, we will go up the Poudre Canyon. We will do 3 specific stops within the canyon, but first we have to stop at Almansitas here in town to pick up some of their amazing breakfast burritos. Our first stop is going to be at Picnic Rock to eat our burritos. Here we will watch the Poudre River flow by. The calmness of the water and the wall of the mountains makes for a perfect sport to have our breakfast. Our next stop is to do another hike at Greyrock Trail. This trail is one big loop that will allow us to see much of the Colorado Mountain range north and south. As we make our way down the mountain, we will have definitely worked up an appetite. So our final stop up the canyon is to go to Mishawaka who is known for their “classic beats and river eats”. We’ll sit outside and watch the river rafters and kayakers float by while we listen to Dave Matthews play on stage. It’s your last day, so I thought we could do what every person visiting Fort Collins should do, and that is to tour all the microbreweries we have – we’ll maybe not ALL, but at least New Belgium, ODells and Equinox. We can also go shopping at this quaint little boutique called Dandelions and Rust where you can bring back some of my Peace Crane Creations to your friends as souvenirs from Fort Collins, Colorado.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would love to give my SHOUTOUT to Mr. Ito. I reflect on his sprit often, and find solace in his story. To live through two significant world events such as being a Hibakusha as well as losing his son on 9/11 and still share to others the importance of peace is something I hold very dear to me. I’m not sure if Mr. Ito is alive today; I tried sharing with him my story and how I try to honor him as well as his son Kazushige by sending him a string of cranes to the Hiroshima Peace Park Museum, but unfortunately never heard back from him. Another SHOUTOUT I would give is to Ann Gmeiner Heinrich. She was my mentor in my younger years as I navigated my own struggles in education. At 19, I had to come to terms that I had a learning difference of dyslexia. Ann helped me believe in the person I am and pushed me to never give up on my dreams and aspirations. She taught me to be resilient and tenacious. Without her support, I wouldn’t be a teacher today, and because of her support, she makes me a better teacher to the students I have taught throughout the years.
Other: Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/shop/PeaceCraneCreations
Larissa Smailes (picture for Kazushie Ito’s 9/11 memorial)