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Marine volunteers make kids smile

Date Posted: 2004-06-10

GINOWAN, Okinawa, Japan — Like rock stars pulling up in a tour bus at a packed arena, Marines with Materiel Readiness Battalion, 3rd Force Service Support Group, were greeted by dozens of smiling and screaming students upon their arrival at the AmerAsian School in Okinawa May 27.

Ten Marines on this trip volunteered to visit the school and be playmates and teachers to the children
The Marines began their time at the school by playing games outside with the students, said Sgt. Amy S. Shandera, Minier, Ill., native.

During a game of keep away, five children tackled a Marine holding a ball out of their reach to the ground.

“It is great to have a group of big, strong Marines come play with the kids every week,” said school principal and middle grades teacher, Michael T. Fad. “We receive different groups of volunteer Marines about twice a week for a few hours in the afternoon. This variety helps improve the students because each group brings new experiences that they can pass on.”

Students and Marines both picked up knowledge that day. In one classroom two Marines received a period of instruction on writing kanji from an enterprising 7-year-old student and her teacher.

“The Marine volunteers here are mostly junior with a sprinkling of NCOs,” Shandera said. “This could be their first time volunteering with kids or first out-in-town experience of another culture.”

In the English language skills classroom, Marines helped the children with their spelling, grammar, and pronunciation. Sometimes, the students pick up bits and pieces of Spanish or other languages Marine volunteers speak. The students would never normally hear these languages in person, said Fad.

“There is no better way to learn a language than exposure to it,” Fad said. “Many of the 70 students we have only speak English at school because their parent or parents do not speak it at home.”
Fad revealed that several of his students come from single-parent homes.

“The presence of the Marines on a regular basis gives these kids the chance to be around a kind of father figure,” Fad said.

The benefits of the Marines at the school seem to flow both ways.

“MRB was tasked with covering the month of May, and we enjoyed our time with the kids,” Shandera said. “It can help take your mind off being away from home.”

As Lance Cpl. Andrew R. Breen and his fellow Marines were about to exit the school parking lot, a little girl raced to their car carrying two Kanji drawings. Perhaps showing the profound effect of their visit, she handed them over and said to him, “Andrew, you can’t go without them!”

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