CAMP ZAMA, Japan – A mother and her two sons from Camp Zama connected with children at a nearby orphanage through the power of play during a volunteer visit there Aug. 28.
Jamie Clauss, who volunteers elsewhere on Camp Zama, said she wanted to give back to her host-nation community and provide her boys — Sebastian, 12; and Seamus, 9 — the chance to connect with Japanese children who may have few opportunities to interact with Americans and who may be curious about the different language and customs.
The U.S. Army Garrison Japan Public Affairs Office reached out to the Sagami South Children’s Home and organized the visit for Jamie and her sons, who spent their time there playing games with the preschool-age children there.
Sebastian and Seamus started by introducing themselves in Japanese and English, and opened the floor to questions. However, the Japanese children were initially too shy to speak up, so the brothers prompted them with a few simple questions, such as what kind of games they like to play and what kind of food they like.
It was when Sebastian and Seamus told them some of their favorite games that the Japanese children smiled and quickly became excited, because they realized they played many of the same games.
The group then played a game of bingo that used simple English vocabulary words like “apple,” “bread,” “water” and “rice.”
Sebastian said some of the Japanese children found it challenging to remember some of the words, but as the game progressed they were able to pronounce them better and repeat the words back.
Next was a game of Simon Says, which is a popular “follow the leader” game for young American children, but with which most Japanese children are not familiar. Once they learned the rules, it was difficult to determine a winner because the children were so excited to follow each prompt, even when it wasn’t preceded by “Simon says.”
Jamie and her sons then led the group in a performance of some popular American singalong songs such as “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” and “The Hokey Pokey.” And even though it again took some time for the Japanese children to learn the words, they were not shy about the dancing, Jamie said.
At the end of the event, the group reflected together on what they learned, and Jamie presented the children with small balls as gifts, and they immediately wanted to play catch with their new friends.
A staff member at Sagami South Children’s Home said he was worried the language barrier would be too much of a challenge, but said it ended up being a great success thanks to the kindness of the Clauss family.
Jamie had equally positive things to say about their hosts.
“The kids did really well for their age and I was impressed by the vocabulary some of them knew,” Jamie said. “I expect my sons will tell their friends about what they did today and hopefully get them interested in volunteering as well.”
Seamus said the language barrier was initially a challenge, but he thoroughly enjoyed volunteering with the children and is eager to do it again. His brother agreed.
“I want to continue doing volunteer activities that come up in the future,” Sebastian said.
This was the first volunteer activity involving Camp Zama at Sagami South Children’s Home since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a USAG Japan Public Affairs representative said, and the hope is to restart regular engagements between the two as a way to enhance the relationship between the installation and its neighbor city.
[Editor’s note: This article was written by Chihiro Suzuki, who worked in the U.S. Army Garrison Japan Public Affairs Office as part of an annual four-week summer internship program for Japanese college students.]