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Kadena volunteers teach English in Japanese schools

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Senior Airman Mark Barrow, 18th Component Maintenance Squadron, plays a game with Okinawan children. The game teaches children the features of a face in English and Japanese. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Kelly Timney)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Senior Airman Mark Barrow, 18th Component Maintenance Squadron, plays a game with Okinawan children. The game teaches children the features of a face in English and Japanese. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Kelly Timney)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Members from Airmen Committed to Excellence sing the "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" song with Okinawan children at Kitami Elementary School Jan. 19. Volunteers spent the afternoon singing songs and playing games geared toward learning various useful words, such as parts of the body, in English. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Kelly Timney)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Members from Airmen Committed to Excellence sing the "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" song with Okinawan children at Kitami Elementary School Jan. 19. Volunteers spent the afternoon singing songs and playing games geared toward learning various useful words, such as parts of the body, in English. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Kelly Timney)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Volunteer opportunities offer a variety of benefits more priceless than money. These benefits include learning a new skill and a sense of satisfaction from helping others.

Team Kadena volunteers have discovered another benefit from volunteering on Okinawa: the joy of working with Okinawan children in an atmosphere of cultural exchange.

Throughout the month, Kadena members visit local schools and spend one or two hours teaching English to elementary students.

"This program was developed to promote an international cultural exchange at the local level, and help children understand different cultures," said Kaori Shimabukuro, 18th Wing Public Affairs community relations specialist and one of the coordinators of the program.

Ms. Shimabukuro and her volunteers visit first and second graders at Kitami Elementary School located 10 minutes away from Gate 3. They spend approximately 45 minutes one Friday a month with each grade level, focusing on hands-on activities such as role-playing conversations, singing and dancing.

"The children are always excited to see the volunteers and they treat them like superstars each time they come into the class," Ms. Shimabukuro said. "It's so wonderful to see that our volunteers have developed such a strong bond with the local children.

"The teachers are also very cooperative with our volunteers and they always try their best to make them feel at home," she added.

Keiko Toma, another English program coordinator with the 18th Wing Public Affairs office, alternates Friday afternoons with Ms. Shimabukuro to teach third grade students at Bito Elementary School in Okinawa City.

"Our lesson plan includes teaching English words and phrases, singing English songs and playing games," Ms. Toma said.

English volunteers also visit Kitatama Elementary School in Chatan Town. Twice a month, the volunteers teach an English class to third and fourth grade students. In addition to the monthly English classes, volunteers also help out with the school's English Club.

"Once every two months on Thursday afternoons, we help out with the English Club," said Patricia Miyagi, 18th Wing Public Affairs community relations specialist and English volunteer program coordinator. "Thirteen members from the teen center help out with the English Club as well. We play games and work on crafts with the children. The children are very enthusiastic and seem to really enjoy the interaction with our American volunteers."

Any Team Kadena member (active-duty, family members and civilians) interested in working with children is welcome to volunteer, said Ms. Shimabukuro.
"I guarantee this will become one of the unforgettable experiences members will have here on Okinawa," she said.

"This is a wonderful activity anyone can participate in," said 1st Lt. Christine Carr, 733rd Air Mobility Squadron, who volunteers her time to help teach English at Kitami Elementary School Friday afternoons. "It only requires a couple hours twice a month to help educate young minds and bolster good relations between Americans and Okinawans. I absolutely enjoy spending time with the children and making a good impact on their lives. It's also a wonderful way to round out the work week."