GOTENBA, SHIZUOKA, Japan --
U.S. Marines and Sailors with Combined Arms Training Center Camp Fuji volunteered with the National Chuo Youth Friendship Center’s annual English camp in Shizuoka, Japan, Aug. 6-8, 2021.
The annual event resumed its regularly scheduled summer activities this year, after being postponed to fall last year due to COVID-19. Over 30 children aged 11 to 12 from all over the prefecture registered for the camp, which the Youth Center said has grown in size and popularity since its inception.
In addition to classroom practice, volunteers played games, barbequed, and quizzed the children during the three-day camp. Camp attendees and volunteers also spent a day onboard the CATC Camp Fuji installation. Children applied phrases they learned in an earlier lesson by passing through a mock immigration desk set up by the provost marshal office, toured the fire department, airfield, library, and finally, used English to to purchase food and other items at the installation Roadhouse restaurant and exchange.
Staff Sgt. Daniel Evans, the installation’s garrison mobile equipment staff non-commissioned officer in-charge, and a Williamsburg, Va. native, said that while the focus of the camp is for local children to experience and practice English with native speakers, volunteers get just as much value from the camp.
“I think more Marines should get involved with events like this, not only does it look good on our part being allies in a host nation, but you’re going to leave here, you’re going to go back to the States. Not only are people going to ask you ‘what did you experience out there?’, you don’t want to say ‘just a military base’ these are cultural experiences that you want to take with you, you can learn a lot about yourself, learn about another culture, I wish more Marines would do that and they could learn from that, benefit from that.”
RP3 Kennedy Brooks-Edgar, a chaplain’s assistant at CATC Camp Fuji, agreed. Originally from Eau Claire, Wis., she has organized Camp Fuji volunteers for the event for three years.
“Getting out there is the hardest step,” she said, “Volunteering, if you don’t have a friend to do it with you, is kind of hard to get started. But you make friends.”
While the three-day camp is a big volunteer commitment, it’s so worth it she said.
“Seeing the kids enjoy something that you’ve put on, something that you’ve helped coordinate is so special; this is my favorite thing about my job.”
She pointed out Sgt. Manuel Lora, installation non-tactical vehicles platoon sergeant, who is a well-known face at volunteer events and the Youth Center workers “all know his name” she laughed.
A native of Staten Island, N.Y., Sgt. Lora used to volunteer his time at a YMCA afterschool program. Now stationed at CATC Camp Fuji, he has participated in numerous English exchanges with the community and JGSDF at the installation.
“My favorite part of the camp is just being around the kids, they’re very energetic and it’s good to see people of different backgrounds and see how they are,” said Sgt. Lora. “Not only does it benefit them, it benefits me because as they are learning, I’m learning as well.”
Staff Sgt. Evans, who has been stationed in Japan two previous times already, said he has already picked up more Japanese vocabulary from his group of campers.
Many of the volunteers agreed that while the children are energetic, the language barrier makes them shy, and finding ways to engage them is the most rewarding. Sgt. Takiyah Wesley, installation supply sergeant said “My favorite event is conversing with the kids and trying to build a conversation. They get fatigued, they get nervous but it’s cute; I love kids.” She added she has dreams of retiring from the Marine Corps and becoming an elementary school teacher back in her hometown of Memphis, Tenn., and wants to make the most of her time in Japan. “I think it’s important to get out there and volunteer because you meet people and make connections, and you view things different. I think it’s very important, especially in this country.”
The service members agreed that the experience left them wanting more, and hoping other Marines and Sailors do the same.
Staff Sgt. Evans said, “I’m just trying to take advantage of every opportunity that there is because you’re not going to get this time back and one day it’s all going to go away; you’re going to wish that you did more, especially in a country as beautiful as this.”