By Mr. Richard L Rzepka (USAG Okinawa)February 10, 2015
OKINAWA, Japan -- At Kobato Preschool in Yomitan Village, laughter and smiles are syllables in a universal language that transcends the spoken word.
Nearly every week for the past four years, U.S. Army Soldiers have volunteered their time to teach preschool children English as part of a U.S. Army Garrison -- Okinawa outreach effort. However, more often than not, it's the Soldiers that come away from the experience with a better understanding.
"I choose to volunteer because I personally believe that you reap what you sow," said 1st Lt. KiAndre Chambers, 349th Signal Company. "I believe that is an investment. Beyond that I take great joy in helping the kids learn even though I am not a teacher," he said. "It's something about the joy they get out of the interaction and the smiles on their faces that seem to make it worth it."
Even though Chambers has been on Okinawa for a little more than a month, he has sought out opportunities to get involved with the local community and even chose to miss the Super Bowl to volunteer.
"As you read to the children you find that some children understand more English than others," he said. "So the fulfilling part of teaching the children is when you can see the child that doesn't understand, begin to speak and comprehend on a higher level. On top of that, I am doing my best to learn to speak Japanese so the kids inevitably teach me every time I walk in the school calling myself Sensei."
For the children, the opportunity to interact with Soldiers is always a welcomed event, said Kyuta Oshiro, who teaches at the school.
"They are looking forward to seeing Army volunteers on Mondays," he said. "They can learn English from the native speaker, and they use the English words in another class or lunch time with perfect accent."
Through volunteering, Soldiers like Chambers have found an intimate way to connect with the people of Okinawa, giving them a different perspective from what they may find in the local papers.
"Sometimes, we see the negative news coverage in local media, but I think it's important to build the trust through friendship and partnership from grass-root level," said Yumiko Uchima, Community Relations Officer, U.S. Army Garrison -- Okinawa.
"We can often help open the eyes of those who have bias and speculations that service members are more likely to cause troubles, and also support Soldiers to learn different cultures and lifestyles to be the good neighbors," said Uchima.