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May 1 11 4:23 AM

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Tokyo group gets intl help for 'Quilts for Hope'

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Sachiko Yoneyama, second from right, and friends hold quilts made to benefit disaster victims in Ota Ward, Tokyo.

A group of women in Ota Ward, Tokyo, has been making patchwork quilts from pieces of cloth sent by children around the world, and plans to donate the comforting blankets to people affected by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Sachiko Yoneyama, 50, said the quilts would be donated to shelters in the Tohoku region, including one in Iwate Prefecture she will visit on May 23.

Several days after the Great East Japan Earthquake, TV footage showing a shelter made a deep impression on Yoneyama. She remembered seeing high school students putting up a poster saying, "Let's give thanks we're alive," and an elderly woman praying in front of the poster.

Yoneyama realized the environment in the shelters was very drab, surrounded by blank walls, and needed some kind of healing touch. This led her to launch "Quilts for Hope" together with mothers of her eldest daughter's classmates at an international school.

The group said the colorful quilts could be put on walls to make the shelters brighter or children could sit on them while they play on the floor.

Yoneyama asked friends in Britain, Switzerland, India and other nations to send squares decorated by children in their countries to make the quilts from. She also asked for help from people in Kyrgyzstan and Eritrea through those nations' embassies.

"I want [the disaster victims] to know that people around the world are supporting Japan," Yoneyama said.

The project recently received three quilts from Arizona made of pieces of cloth given by about 80 people. She expected 80 quilts from Israel to arrive soon.

The quilts bear messages such as "Hope for Japan" and "Have courage." One square has the kanji character "Ai," meaning love, in hesitant writing. Yoneyama and her friends have spent many hours patching together the pieces of cloth they received with cotton padding inside. She said she wants to deliver quilts to every shelter in the Tohoku region.

"I hope children in the disaster-stricken areas will return the favor to the world after they grow up," Yoneyama said.