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CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan -- The Camp Foster Youth Center hosted a “fun day” of arts and crafts, basketball, ping pong and various interactive video games for children from Oshima Island Jan. 12 as part of the second annual youth cultural exchange program.
The program was created following the devastating earthquake and tsunami that occurred in mainland Japan March 2011 to give children from Oshima a stress-free environment to relax in during the summer, while their home communities recovered from the aftermath. This year’s visit focused on the Japanese and American children sharing their diverse cultures and learning from each other.
“I hope this experience will broaden their horizons and show them that we care about them,” said Robert D. Eldridge, the deputy assistant chief of staff for G-7, government and external affairs, Marine Corps Installations Pacific. “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.
Events like this demonstrate the core values of Marines and show they care, according to Eldridge.
“The Marine Corps community embraces this relationship,” said Eldridge. “This really shows how the Marines demonstrate honor, courage and commitment in all that they do. Many people are familiar with the saying ‘no greater friend, no worst enemy’ and this really shows that there is‘no greater friend’ – it shows what the Marines do best.”
All aspects of the Marine community participated in the program, with Marines and family members hosting the children in their homes.
"I think this is a great opportunity for us to show our host nation that we appreciate being guests here," said Master Sgt. Ricardo Clayton, the air traffic control staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. "I think this is a great program and shows that we care about the community."
The host families hope the children leave with lifelong memories, according to Maria Clayton, a volunteer host family member.
“I hope that (the child staying with us) has fun and takes away good memories from his time with our family,” said Clayton. “We appreciate the opportunity to share our culture with the children. I’m happy to take part in this program and to learn from them as much as they learn from us.”
The volunteer host families showed the children a good time during their stay, according to Mizuki Oyama, a 12-year-old 6th-grade student from Oshima.
“It is fun being here,” said Oyama. “The families we are staying with are kind to us. The part of the trip I enjoyed the most was visiting the aquarium.”
The children of the host families are also enjoying learning about Japanese culture. “It is difficult sometimes to communicate, but it isn’t hard to find things to do that we both like,” said Elonzo Higginson, a 12-year-old volunteer host family member. “Yesterday, we played basketball and video games and today we are spending more time together.”
During the program, the children of Oshima participated in more group activities such as a Sunday brunch and a half-day of school together with their American hosts. Individual activities for the Japanese children have been coordinated by their host families, including visiting the circus and Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium.
The children of Oshima will return home Jan. 14.