A small crowd huddled under a tent outside Tembusu College at NUS University Town, around a Camphor sapling that was nestled in the ground. Eight students from the College had nurtured the sapling from seeds harvested from a tree that had survived the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The tree-planting ceremony, which took place on Earth Day, 22 April 2014, marks the College’s commitment to peace, friendship and the environment.
The seeds were sent by Ms Nassrine Azimi, co-founder of the Green Legacy Hiroshima (GLH) Initiative, to her friend Professor Tommy Koh, Rector of Tembusu College, in late 2012. The Initiative, a collaborative project between the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and the Asian Network of Trust Hiroshima (ANT-Hiroshima), seeks to distribute seeds of trees that survived the bombing to botanical gardens, schools and universities all over the world, as a symbol of peace and friendship. With Singapore added to the list, GLH now has partners in 21 countries, ranging from Japan, Australia and the US to Afghanistan and Russia.
“We’d like to spread the spirit of Hiroshima … to spread Hiroshima’s [message of] peace, of removing all nuclear weapons from this world to create a peaceful world. We hope our partners and the offspring of the trees will act as the ambassadors of Hiroshima,” said Professor Shin-ichi Uye from Hiroshima University, who attended the ceremony as GLH’s representative.
Among the guests were representatives from the Embassy of Japan in Singapore, Singapore Botanic Gardens, International Atomic Energy Agency, and Singapore’s National Institute of Education.
“We want peace between nations but we also want peace between man, woman and nature,” said Prof Koh, who gave a short speech at the ceremony.
The year-long GLH-Singapore project was led by Dr Margaret Tan, a Fellow at the College who, together with the students, worked with staff members from the Singapore Botanic Gardens to nurse and grow the seeds. The saplings are descendants from a Camphor tree located at the northeast corner of Hiroshima Castle, 1,120m away from the atomic bomb hypocentre.
One of the Tembusu students, Ms Sarah Wee, visited the GLH group in Hiroshima in December 2012, while she was in the city on an NUS homestay programme. During her visit, she toured the atomic-bombed trees and received advice from Dr Chikara Horiguchi, a GHL botanist, on how to take care of seeds and saplings. This project impressed her so much that she switched her area of study under the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences to life science in the Faculty of Science.
“I always had the idea that I wanted to do something with the environment. This was one of the experiences that gave me the conviction that I should do what I like, since I enjoy the process and enjoy what I’m learning,” said the Year 2 student specialising in Environmental Biology.
Singapore is also home to another GLH Camphor sapling, which can be found at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The two saplings are among six that sprouted from the batch of seeds that arrived here two years ago. A few other GLH plants—the Kurogane holly, ginkgo, persimmon—have found their way into Singapore’s Embassy in Tokyo and will be transplanted into the Embassy’s main garden this year. Only between five and 10 types of plants survived the atomic blast in Hiroshima, according to Prof Uye.
After the ceremony, Dr Tan and the students presented a photo exhibition that documented the entire process of germinating and successfully growing these seeds into saplings, which included working with the Singapore Botanic Gardens in other nursery work like soil preparation and plant propagation. The exhibition also featured Sarah’s experience in Hiroshima.