Al-Ahram Weekly Online   22 - 28 October 2009
Issue No. 969
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

As the world unfolds

Nader Habib discovers the mystery of origami, the ancient Japanese paper craft

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What do you think of my drawing? I just finished it. Can you write my name on it? What do you think of the fish and the boat?" These questions were posed in quick succession by a six-year-old to Osama Helmi, also known as Ozoz. As the name may suggest, he is a sort of a wizard.

Ozoz, who is specialised in the paper craft called origami, an ancient Japanese art of folding papers that helps shape countless forms of animals and missiles, is running a workshop organised by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in cooperation with the Child and Adolescent Creative Unit at the Alexandria Atelier.

The Alexandria-born Ozoz has been using origami for educational purposes since 2003. He gave classes to people with hearing, speech, and vision disabilities, and he coached drug addicts in the method as a way of therapy. His classes have taken him to Siwa, Luxor, Port Fouad, Cairo and Tunisia. "I have used origami to help teach geometry and language. I have used it in illiteracy classes. And I used it in a programme for handicraft."

Ozoz believes that origami is a behaviour- altering tool. He says it is like candy to children. They love it so much that the teacher can use it to help them acquire new skills.

To him, origami has an ability to change the way children think. "Children are like paper, you can fold and unfold them all the time, and when you do it right, they prosper as a result."

It is this impact on personality that keeps Ozoz interested in the paper-folding game. "Our personalities, come to think of it, were formed in a long-term process of folding and unfolding. Our conscience has been formed by religion. We have been influenced by what is banned and permitted, by what is right and wrong, by our romantic successes and failures. Our family and friends -- they have all influenced the way we are."

This susceptibility to change is a good thing, but only in the hand of a trustworthy coach. Through his cooperation with the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Ozoz has been able to present a number of workshops at the Child Creativity Unit. "I started with the Ramadan decoration in a street in Alexandria. Then we had a workshop for Christmas. Our last workshop was called Sea Mockup and now we're having the Fold and Draw Workshop."

Ozoz has noticed that there are children who draw but cannot fold and others that fold but cannot draw. To combine the two skills, he organised a special workshop. It is all done in the spirit of fun. "I don't want origami to become part of the curriculum. It is a tool that can be used to help with the educational process itself. There is an element of surprise in the act of folding, and it teaches children a lot of behavioural skills."

For example, children can learn geometry while folding a piece of paper. "I was explaining to the children today that a rectangular paper can be turned into a square. Then I discussed the way a square can be turned into several triangles, and then I asked them to count the number of angles in every triangle. They may not know everything today, but it will all come in handy when, in four years or so, they study the subject at school."

Origami is a behavioural skill and through interaction with playmates children learn communication skills, explained Ozoz. The ability of the children to collaborate is an important ingredient of the workshop. A child may ask another for colours in a nice way and give them back with a word of thanks because the colours don't belong to one person alone. "Lonely children and those spoiled at home can be difficult sometimes, but everyone can change and learn sharing things with others," he added.

The mothers are thrilled with the results. Jihan Attiya, interior designer, has a six-year-old, Youssef, in class. "We learned about this workshop through an advertisement in the school last year. My boy has benefited so much from it. His skills developed a lot and his behaviour improved as well. Now he has no problem filling up his free time. I bought him the stuff he needs and set up a corner for him and he is much happier now, and less rowdy, too."

Attiya is keenly interested in Youssef's artistic skills. "I discovered that he has an intense awareness of art, so I decided that it would be good for him to come to the workshop. Here, he learns skills and art in a much better way than I can teach him. I bring back the objects he makes at home and the coaches assess them, and that makes him very proud."

Marwa Saad is happy with the skills her child, Abdel-Rahman, is learning. "I had been looking for ways to improve his abilities. And you know something, even his school performance has improved since he started coming here. We all have to give our children the chance to develop their skills and to choose what suits them better."

Saad also has set aside a corner for Abdel-Rahman to practise his new hobby. "I prepared for Abdel-Rahman a working space and lined it up with plastic to keep it clean. He now has an apron that he wears when he's painting." She turns around and looks at Abdel-Rahman who has just come running. He tugs at her dress and says, "Mom, I drew a sun and made a fish and boat with paper. I also drew a man fishing."

Sahar Zahran, production manager and mother of two, had wanted to be an artist but never got the chance. Now she's trying to encourage her children to be artistic. "I am trying to give them the opportunity to discover what they want. I encourage them to practise sports and attend science classes at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. But I have to say I am not trying to draw their attention to music right now, because I dislike most of the music one hears these days."

Zahran says that her children's personality has changed once they started attending the workshops. "My boys have changed in their behaviour. They have been able to develop their skills. For example, Mohamed couldn't handle objects with both hands, and the workshops improved his coordination. I couldn't believe the stuff he actually could make."

The workshops can also teach tolerance, according to Ozoz who recalled an unforgettable situation he faced during a workshop in Luxor. "For three weeks, we worked with Christian and Muslim children. Throughout, I avoided the matter of religion, but they wanted to know my religion. They kept asking and I made a point of not telling them. I wanted them to interact as humans and without prejudice. This worked out quite well. At the end, the children apologised to me and told me that one's religion didn't matter, for there is no difference between Muslims and Christians."

Ozoz taught himself origami when he was only seven. "I learned it from a show on Egyptian television Channel 2, and as I grew up my interest in handicraft increased, for I loved sewing, knitting and weaving. I used to fold paper and make boats and frogs. Then I was able to make a penguin and many other things."

When Ozoz was in preparatory school, a substitute teacher walked in and, not having prepared for the class, he produced a piece of paper and started folding it in wonderful shapes. "He didn't tell us that this was origami."

When Ozoz went to college, his colleagues would make fun of him, saying he was too old to play with paper. "I went to the commerce college first, then left it to study literature. But I never stopped experimenting with origami. I found a book about origami in the library in 2002, and I studied it carefully. Back then, my friends and I formed a band called Resala [The Message]." But after four years, Ozoz gave up on singing to focus on origami.

He has used origami with the vision and speech impaired. To him, even drug addicts benefited from exposure to the art. "I learned sign language to communicate with the deaf. Everyone can be useful. Folding a paper and making a boat may not be a goal in itself, but it is a useful tool, a challenge."

The pleasure that origami brings to life is one that Ozoz deeply embraces. "Our lives are little more than a continual act of folding and unfolding. You may meet people by accident and they may leave an impact on your life. People you meet on a train may say something that changes the course of your life."

Ozoz is forever adding to his repertoire. "I have invented ways to make Arabic letters and numbers, and the Ramadan lantern, too. I try to introduce origami in our lives in Ramadan and Christmas. I use it in arithmetic to help children learn faster."

Ozoz appreciates not only the way his art affects others, but the way he feels when he teaches. "When I am at a workshop I, too, undergo a personality change. When I teach street children I become like them, and when I went to Tunisia, I found myself speaking in the Tunisian dialect. The coach needs to break the barrier with his group."

The way Ozoz starts his class is unusual. He would say something like: Let's listen to the sound of the fan, or perhaps he would walk in, look at the children and ask them to listen to the sound of silence. It works every single time. It turns the session into a game. "After they have calmed down, I get straight into my subject. But if I were to shout at them to shut up, no one would listen to me," he explained.

When Ozoz sees that some children are not into handicraft, he tells the parents so. He believes that they need to know, so they can explore other venues for their children's creativity. "The children must be given freedom and not be afraid to express their preferences, so that they do not grow up hesitant and dependent," he added.

Ozoz changes the subject of his workshops according to the venue. He uses the origami because he's good at it, therefore, he could apply it in conjunction with science and other fields of knowledge. "When I'm teaching at the Kindness to Animal Society, I make paper animals. When I am at the library, I make a fan and talk about renewable energy."

Currently, Ozoz is trying to form an Egyptian centre for origami. As an artist, he cannot think of money first, but he's a human being and has needs. He cites an example of the hand-made Ramadan lantern : Let's imagine that people would buy one hand-made lantern and then never buy another. That would mean that the lantern maker wouldn't be able to make more lanterns, and the art would die. "I want origami to spread."

The Alexandria Atelier, which is collaborating with Ozoz, is organising a variety of workshops for children aged five to 15. Announcements for the workshop are regularly posted at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and the atelier. Every November, the atelier holds an exhibition of children's work at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

How to make an origami crane:

1- Start with a standard 8.5x11 inch sheet of paper, cut into a square then fold the square in half diagonally.

2- Fold in half from right to left diagonally again.

3- Spread the pocket out from the inside and hold to make a small square.

4- Turn the paper over to start step five.

5- Fold point B onto point A while at the same time folding the paper crease inward so that point C is touching point D.

6- Here's the tricky part. Fold left and right corners towards the centre line along the red valley line and then fold the top corner along the blue valley line.

7- Note: The folds from step 6 are only to create a crease. Your paper should look like this.

8- Now, open the pocket by pulling the bottom corner up and fold inward along the crease. Some creases will become inverted.

9- The figure should look like this. Be careful to score the edges and corners cleanly. Turn over and do the same. (Steps 6, 7 and 8).

10- Fold in the lower flaps made in step 9. Now you have come half way, and the rest is downhill.

11- Making sure you have the right side up, valley fold on the dotted lines using the top layer only.

12- The figure should look like this. Turn over.

13- Do the same as step 11. Getting hard? Don't give up. You're almost there!

14- Reverse fold at dotted lines to form the head.

15- Slightly open the side and bring the head part up like this.

16- Bring up at this point and press down. Do the same to form the tail on the other side.

17- Reverse fold at dotted lines to form the beak. You can select the length of the beak.

18- Bend the wings down and out into the proper position. You can bow in from the bottom.

19- The finished crane.

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