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Women foster international exchange and friendships

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-12-11

The Okinawa International Women's Club recently held their annual Christmas party on Monday, December 7, 1998 at the Officers Club on Camp Butler. About three hundred members and guests were in attendance, helping to raise money for various charities around the island. As part of the club's yearly event schedule, the Christmas party is the largest event the women hold throughout the year.

Formed over forty years ago, the organization was originally open to only the wives of high ranking officers and government officials. Today however, the club is open to anyone who is female, and has an interest in cultural exchange. President Junko Kinjo explained, "We are here to help form better ties between the Japanese and American Communities."

Besides monthly luncheons, members of the club also make up smaller "cultural" groups, where between five to six American women get together with their Japanese counterparts once a month for a variety of functions that range from craft making to cooking. "During Christmas the American women teach us how to make Christmas decorations and about the different customs from America. For the New Year celebration, we teach Americans about the different Japanese customs of oshogatsu," said Kinjo. "We also go shopping together and do many other activities."

On Monday morning, fifteen of the cultural groups were selling various craft items and baked goods to help the club raise money for charity. Almost everyone bought something, making the occasion very successful. The club takes the money and donates it to many different organizations around the island, both on base and off base every June, helping orphanages, schools, and the elderly. A portion of the money also goes to help children in underdeveloped countries, such as the Philippines and Bangladesh. A "white elephant sale" for used items also took place in conjunction with the bazaar. Afterwards, everyone enjoyed a delicious lunch, with entertainment provided by the Kubasaki High School Choir.

The very generous women of this organization not only help others in need, but are also rewarded with very long lasting friendships and memories. Their close cooperation with each other has helped them to improve cultural understanding between the two different communities. "There is a real benefit, especially for the ladies who will be here for three years. By joining the club they have a chance to experience many interesting things - the local culture, language, and food. It gives them a connection with the community on this island, " said Vice President Robbi Sanders. "This is not just temporary either. These are lifelong friendships we are building."

Both Sanders and Kinjo expressed the importance of cultural exchange and friendship several times. "Even though we come from different cultures, women still have the same hearts," further explained Sanders. A very close camaraderie has helped the club grow to over two hundred and fifty members.

Kinjo, who has been with the club for twenty five years, said that having the chance to get together with American women has helped her to really enjoy the culture and friendships they offer. "There are so many nice, kind wonderful American women, who really want to understand the culture and customs of Okinawa," she said. "I really feel happy if everyone has good memories and feelings about Okinawa when they leave."

If you are a woman, new to the island, and would like to either simply meet people or want to know more about Okinawa, the Okinawa International Women's Club is the perfect opportunity to do so. For more information, please call either Robbi Sanders at 633-8232 or Linda Cummings at 633-8031.

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