A Journey into the Heart of Peace Education in Hiroshima: 2018 Oleander Initiative Report

A Journey into the Heart of Peace Education in Hiroshima: 

2018 Oleander Initiative Report


Oleander Initiative Educators at the Atomic Bomb Dome, Hiroshima, August 6, 2018 

During the last day of the 2018 Oleander Initiative, our teachers from throughout the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region and the United States had the honor of meeting Mr. Shigeaki Mori. Mr. Mori is the hibakusha (atomic bomb victim) who greeted President Obama during his historic visit to Hiroshima in 2016. He is also the subject of the award winning documentary film Paper Lanterns.



After Mr. Mori’s powerful testimonial and the emotional discussion that followed, one of the teachers declared:

“Today, I have become a Peace Educator in both my head and my heart”


Mr. Mori with Oleander participants

Why is the Oleander Initiative such a transformational experience? How does the iconic city of Hiroshima inspire such powerful commitments toward peace from our teachers?  

What is the Journey of a Teacher Attending the Oleander Initiative?


The journey of the teachers and UME staff at the Oleander Initiative began on August 1, 2018. Upon our arrival in Tokyo, we were warmly welcomed at an opening dinner at Seisen University by faculty and students, as well as members of the Tokyo peace education community.


Oleander educators and staff with Seisen University faculty, students and leaders of peace focused NGOs at the opening dinner

We arrived the next day in Hiroshima, the “City of Peace,” just as it geared up for the 73rd anniversary of the atomic bombing.


Panoramic view of modern day Hiroshima city

Our first activity in Hiroshima was to visit the Peace Memorial Museum.



On display at the museum: Pocket watch frozen at the time of the bombing, photo of Hiroshima City during August, 1945

There, we had our first glimpse of the terrible humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons on the people of Hiroshima.



Our guide, Michiko Yamane of the World Friendship Center, with the tricycle of a 3 year old victim of the atomic bombing

The Oleander Initiative goes beyond the tragedy of the atomic bombing itself. From the starting point of the museum, the Oleander educators proceed to explore deeper themes resulting from the atomic bombing such as resilience, forgiveness, and the need to look towards the future.

The challenge for the Oleander educators is to transform these “lessons of Hiroshima” into peace education projects that are relevant, powerful, and resonate deeply within the students of their home communities.


Students at the Honkawa School shortly after the atomic bombing

On August 3rd, Oleander educators visited the Honkawa elementary school, the school closest to ground zero that lost over 400 students and teachers to the atomic bombing. In an incredible display of resilience, the Honkawa school re-opened its doors for classes less than six months after the bombing.

The theme of resilience was further reinforced when the Honkawa students participated in an extrarodinary art exchange with American youth in 1947. Despite what the Japanese students endured just two years earlier, they produced no pictures of sadness, trauma or fear. The surprisingly cheerful and optimistic artwork was a symbol of hope and rebuilding from children living in a devastated city. The inspiring story of the Honkawa art exchange can be viewed in a documentary entited Pictures from a Hiroshima School yard.


Artwork produced by Honkawa students in 1947. Mr. Ishida’s drawing is at the bottom right corner

Now a museum, the Honkawa school houses the original drawings from the students, artifacts from the atomic bombing, as well as a scale model replica of Hiroshima city shortly after August 6, 1945.  Mr. Toshimi Ishida, a hibakusha and also one of the students who participated in the 1947 art exchange led our group on the tour of the museum.



Mr. Ishida denoting the movements of his family on the scale model map of Hiroshima on the day of the atomic bombing

When asked his thoughts about the atomic bombing, Mr. Ishida told the Oleander educators the following:

“My grandparents were killed by the A-bomb and I burned with anger for many years afterwards. It was only when my children were born that I understood that I needed to let the past, no matter how painful, “flow down the river.”

“Instead of being trapped by a painful past and what happened to my grandparents, I made a choice to direct my energies towards the future and my children. I vowed to do everything I could to create a peaceful future where they will never have to experience what my family did in Hiroshima.”


Mr. Ishida’s perspective about the past and future was one of the numerous “lessons of Hiroshima” that came in many forms to the Oleander educators.

Oleander educators explored the “lessons of Hiroshima”





Classes included: “The Facets of Hiroshima,” Peace ELT Practices,” “Empathy through connection in the classroom,” “Hiroshima Peace Culture: When Sincere Wishes for Peace meets Reality.”

Oleander educators explored the “lessons of Hiroshima”

Artistically and Emotionally:


The Heart of Hiroshima art and music exhibition. held at the former Bank of Japan, a building

famous for the “human shadow” that was etched on its steps by the heat of the atomic blast



Hiroshima boy’s choir at Heart of Hiroshima



Oleander educators and staff folding paper cranes – the symbol of peace in Hiroshima





Debrief exercise using modeling clay to express thoughts and emotions regarding the August 6th memorial ceremony

Oleander educators explored the “lessons of Hiroshima”

Through Nature:




Oleander educators with Tomoko Watanabe of ANT and Green Legacy Hiroshima, an NGO that sends seeds from A-bombed “survivor” trees around the world to promote peace and awareness of the dangers of nuclear weapons


Oleander educators explored the “lessons of Hiroshima”


Through Hiroshima’s peace education curriculum 



Pre-schoolers at the Motomachi Elementary school singing “What is Peace?”

Hiroshima city is the only educational system in the world that requires all class levels – from pre-school to high school graduation – to include a peace education component in its curriculum. Oleander educators received a comprehensive view of this unique educational system by visiting the Motomachi Elementary and Elementary schools and Jogakuin High School in Hiroshima.



Presentation about the curriculum at Jogakuin High school and students leading a tour of Hiroshima Peace Park

Oleander educators explored the “lessons of Hiroshima”

Through events that memorialized those who were lost on August 6, 1945:

Japanese Prime Minster  Shinzo Abe speaking at the August 6th Memorial Ceremony




Oleander Educators placing flowers at the Peace Park Cenotaph memorializing the victims of the atomic bomb


UME Executive Director dedicating paper cranes created by Oleander educators at the Honkawa school memorial ceremony

Immediately after the memorial ceremony, the Oleander educators attended a raucous festival honoring the dead and celebrating life

Throughout the program, Oleander educators focused on understanding the most essential “lessons of Hiroshima” and what aspects of these lessons could be adapted to inspire their own students.

As with all UME programs, Oleander educators engaged in numerous cross cultural collaborations to help make meaning of their experiences in Hiroshima.

American and MENA educators worked in pairs: 


Collaborated in multinational groups: 


Exchanged peace education methodologies with Japanese educators


Oleander educators with teachers at the Motomachi Elementary school


Exchanged messages of peace with students: 


and joined over 10,000 peace-minded people from around the world at the World Conference Against A and H Bombs




The World Conference against A+H bombs was first established in 1955 and is often credited for giving voice to the hibakusha. This conference regularly draws over 10,000 participants from around the world every year.


On the night of August 6th, Oleander educators joined over 50,000 people at the floating lantern ceremony in the center of Hiroshima City 




Oleander educators writing thier wishes for peace on paper lanterns



They released their wishes for peace down the Motoyasu river along with thousands of others 



Inspired, the Oleander educators worked to adapt what they learned in Hiroshima into fine tuned peace education lesson plans for their students.  





Oleander educators presenting thier Hiroshima – inspired peace education lesson plans to their colleagues

On August 9th, the Oleander educators completed their journey into the heart of peace education in Hiroshima. 




Oleander educators receiving their certificates at the closing dinner

At the start of the new school year, the Oleander educators will transmit their lessons of Hiroshima to classrooms throughout the United States, Middle East and North Africa… 



Inspiring thousands of students to launch their own journeys to create a more peaceful world


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