Marines bid farewell to Oshima children
By CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan -
| Marine Corps Installations Pacific | January 15, 2013
January 14, 2013 --
After a fun-filled four-day visit to Okinawa, 24 children and their six chaperones bid farewell to their host families Jan. 14 and made their journey back to Oshima Island, Kesennuma City, Miyagi prefecture.
The Oshima visitors came to Okinawa as part of the youth homestay cultural exchange program hosted by Marine Corps Community Services.
Oshima Island and other parts of northern Japan were devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami of March 11, 2011, leaving the Oshima community in shambles. The idea to host the children in Okinawa was conceived as part of the relief effort extended to the people of Oshima in their time of need.
“We were invited by the Marine Corps to come to Okinawa in the summer of 2011,” said Hironobu Sugawara, the homestay program manager and an Oshima City Assembly member. “We want to keep the ties between our community and the Marines strong.”
It was important to get the kids away from that stressful scene of devastation during their summer break and to give them a chance to enjoy themselves before returning to school, according to Robert D. Eldridge, the deputy assistant chief of staff for G-7, government and external affairs, Marine Corps Installations Pacific.
Volunteer military host families shared their lives with the visiting children by opening their homes, giving them a tour of Okinawa, and participating in various activities such as visiting local attractions, participating in arts and crafts projects, playing sports and board games, and attending a Sunday brunch hosted in their honor.
“It was fun being here,” said Mizuki Oyama, a 12-year-old sixth-grade student from Oshima. “The families we stayed with were kind to us and the part of the trip I enjoyed the most was visiting the aquarium.”
On the fourth day of their visit, the children received the opportunity to go to different classes at the E.C. Killin Elementary School with their host family counterparts, where they got a glimpse of what it is like going to school for American children.
“I hope this experience will broaden their horizons and show them that we care about them,” said Eldridge. “Both Maj. Gen. Peter J. Talleri and Lt. Gen. Kenneth J. Glueck Jr. are extremely supportive of this program, and I am happy to work with leaders that are so open to ideas such as this.”
Talleri is the commanding general of MCIPAC, and Glueck is the commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Force.
“The youth cultural exchange program represents our continued commitment to maintaining this special friendship,” said Talleri. “The exchange began in 2011 with the homestay program that brought 25 students from the Oshima elementary and middle schools to visit their host families here on Okinawa.
“The Marine Corps supported the Japanese people following the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan March 11, 2011, and since that day, the Marine Corps has maintained a very special friendship with the community and families of Oshima.”
The youth homestay cultural exchange program is intended to be a recurring event and is scheduled to happen again in August, according to Eldridge.