When Hiroshima was destroyed at the end of World War II, one little girl wanted to do something to help repair the damage. She decided to fold one thousand paper cranes and present them as a symbol of peace to anyone she thought might need one.
More than 50 years later, her gesture has inspired children and women at the Northern Manhattan HIV Women's and Children's Project to spend the month of September making and distributing paper cranes to women and children with AIDS. It is their attempt to help repair the damage done in the city by the World Trade Center.
The group's efforts are part of a month-long emphasis on personal, community and citywide wellness sponsored by a unique alliance known as "NYC Recovers." Comprised of more than 40 partnership groups, including a number of Columbia's schools and centers, NYC Recovers was founded a week after the twin towers fell by Mindy Fullilove, professor of clinical psychiatry and public health at the Mailman School of Public Health, and Jennifer Stevens Madoff, project coordinator with the Community Research Group of the New York State Psychiatric Institute and the Mailman School of Public Health. The organization has spent the year hosting conferences, rallies and workshops for various agencies, religious communities, and businesses in helping New York City recover.
By April, NYC Recovers joined groups such as the New York City Department of Health, Project Liberty, the Department of Mental Health, and NYU's International Trauma Studies Program in hosting a working conference entitled, "Together We Heal: Community Mobilization for Trauma Recovery." As a result, the conference yielded an overwhelming agreement by participants to emphasize helping people work through the September 11 anniversary.
That is why NYC Recovers -- in preparation for the anniversary as well as recognizing the emotional strain New Yorkers have felt this past year -- designated September as "Wellness Month." Partners in the alliance (such as Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons Student Success Network, the School of Social Work, Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement, Ground Zero Initiative, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Northern Manhattan Community Voices Collaborative) have planned a variety of month-long events and services that include free choir performances, community outreaches, block gatherings, free yoga classes in public places such as schools, parks and auditoriums throughout the city, counseling hotlines and meditative walks. And announcements to "turn off the television set and get with your community" are being made.
"NYC Recovers was founded because the magnitude of the disaster was not limited to lower Manhattan but had profoundly affected how all of us live our daily lives," Fullilove says. "Because remembering this tragedy could bring another level of stress and considering how worn out people are from the unprecedented year we've experienced, we felt the solution would be to embed the anniversary in a month of wellness. So we're focusing on taking care of ourselves as well as giving the gift of wellness to others and decorating the city to create an ambiance of wellness that will support the recovery of all New Yorkers. Just like the city post-9/11 was decorated with missing posters and make-shift altars, we'd like to see the city decorated with posters of wellness, whatever people think that may be."
In addition to making paper cranes, many children, students and families are being encouraged to decorate their communities with creative expressions of rebuilding. Fullilove believes the aesthetic setting will help recreate an atmosphere that encourages residents during a time marked by difficult memories and painful grief.
She also points out several helpful steps an individual can take to manage the emotions he is likely to confront during the anniversary. First, it is important to make a commitment to personal wellness throughout the month. "Last year we might have started smoking again, or exercised less because of the anxiety we were facing," Fullilove says. "Now is a good time to start eating our vegetables again or drinking more water, whatever it is that will help us take better care of ourselves."
It is also critical for people to think about where exactly they want to be on the anniversary day itself by talking it through with family members, colleagues and friends. That might mean deciding not to be in the city at all or taking a day off of work to stay at home. Others might insist on coming to the office. Neither option is wrong. The point is, Fullilove says, to determine before September 11th how to spend the day and plan accordingly. Such advanced thinking will aid an individual when the bereavement and emotion of the anniversary surfaces.
Another issue to determine before hand is which people to be with during the day. This is where organizations -- like campus groups, churches, synagogues, mosques or community centers -- will be most helpful because, "We don't mourn alone," Fullilove says. "We mourn collectively. Being with some order of people that day is really important so we need to figure out who we should be with ahead of time."
These steps can cushion the intensity that will likely occur on the tragedy's anniversary. "People should expect to relive some of the moment, however you experienced it. The terror, the fear, the way in which it changed the world," Fullilove says. "So what we want to bring to that is a strong sense of the year that has passed and there are many ways to do that: by looking at old photos, talking with friends, thinking about special activities. One of the best ways to counterbalance terror is by real lived experiences of togetherness."
And one of the best ways to create a meaningful September, according to partners and leaders of NYC Recovers, is to focus on wellness because ultimately it will help rebuild the city on many levels. As Fullilove says, "We have to be profoundly connected with the idea that we are repairing the city on that day of remembrance, by coming to have a vision of the spaces we need in order to be the city that we want to be."