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Little Kids Raise Voices To Benefit Japan

Local Japanese students from Niles' St. Matthew's performed Sunday to help victims of Japan's earthquake and tsunami.

Just hours before officials in Japan released news that the toll of the earthquake and tsunami was worse than thought, some very small Japanese children from Chicago's suburbs inspired many with their

While suburban Japanese moms folded origami at a Japanese market in Arlington Heights, all eyes were on their three- to six-year-old children, who wanted to do what they could to help the people of their homeland.

The littlest ones sang, and the slightly older ones beat traditional Japanese drums, in a in an  effort to raise money to help Japan's disaster victims. 

(Watch the video at upper right.)

The kids attend the . Many families at the school have relatives and friends in Japan who are missing or suffering in some way from the recent earthquake and tsunami and their after-effects. 

The performance took place at Mitsuwa Marketplace, a Japanese grocery store, food court and collection of retail stores in Arlington Heights.

Minori Yamaki, director of the preschool, said her students have felt compassion for victims ever since March 11, when news of the earthquake arrived. 

"That morning, my kids came to school really shocked," said Yamaki. "They were really worried about the people in Japan."

She said she made an effort to not so much focus on the catastrophe, but more on what the kids could do to help. Their gift to Japan came in the form of song.

"They wanted to dance for people to send a message, that 'we are thinking of you, even though we are far away from Japan, we are still thinking of you.'"

Among several selections, the children sang a traditional Japanese graduation celebration song, which Yamaki prefaced by saying was dedicated to those in Japan who could not enjoy their own intended graduation this month due to the disaster. Many in the large performance space at the store sang along, some wiping away tears.

Yamaki said compassion is an important virtue taught at St. Matthew's.

"To someone in need, you extend a helping hand," she said. "Even though they are little, their hands are so small, their voices are so soft but when they get together, they can do a great thing. They will remember what happened today. And what the parents did today, and how we help people when they are in need. We have to teach our children how they can show love to one another."

Japanese sources released news late Sunday that the need is greater than previously thought. They raised the estimate of people killed to 18,000 and said it would take five years to rebuild the country.

While it was unclear how much money had been raised by Sunday afternoon, a strong show of community support was visible. Donations were accepted in exchange for individuals' names written in Japanese characters on ceramic tiles, origami cranes and balloon animals.

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