DILI, Timor-Leste - Shouts of “Bondia, Bondia, Bondia,” which means good morning in the native language of Tetun, could be heard as the Religious Ministry Team of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit visited school aged children to hand out sporting equipment, books and writing supplies Oct. 12.
Timor-Leste is a new country, which has only seen its independence from Indonesia in the last decade, and many of the schools are public and operate with little to no funds. That’s how the community relations events led by the 15th MEU’s chaplain and his staff brought Christmas to the local children two months early.
The MEU is on the island participating in Exercise Crocodilo 2012, which includes field exercises and community relations activities aimed at strengthening the relationship between the US and Timor-Leste. The MEU/ARG team is scheduled to offer medical and dental assistance to the local populace, as well as participate in the construction and sustainment of local infrastructure.
Visits such as this help us develop and grow important relationships, and serve as a testament of our strong desire to continue to strengthen this relationship with Timor-Leste
“This is an important opportunity for us to show we care, and it’s great for the Marines to see other cultures,” said Lt. Cmdr. David Dinkins, chaplain, 15th MEU. “Plus…the kids are a lot of fun.”
When Religious Program Specialist First Class Edward Debaun asked if there were any Marines or sailors that wished to volunteer to help them disseminate the supplies, he knew it wouldn’t be long before there was line at his door. He was right, and within 10 minutes, Marines were waiting at his door.
“I knew that I wouldn’t need to wait for volunteers,” said Debaun. “Marines are notorious for volunteering when it comes to humanitarian assistance. They are always eager to help.”
The team visited six schools and delivered more than 1,000 books, several hundred reams of paper and notebooks, pens, pencils, crayons and other school supplies. However, when the team brought out soccer balls, footballs, basketballs and Frisbees, the young students could hardly control their excitement.
After all the sporting goods were handed out, the Marines and sailors took time to play soccer and throw Frisbees with the children.
“It was nice to play with the kids and watch them have a good time,” said Lance Cpl. Jason White, motor transportation, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines.
Debaun spent six months during the pre-deployment workup to collect all the gifts handed out during the COMREL events.
“Aviaria Oaks Elementary School in Aviaria, Calif., collected books during a book drive and Mr. Books in San Diego donated as well. Project Handclasp donated English textbooks and USAID donated money to purchase the supplies,” said Debaun.
“Obrigado! Obrigado! Obrigado,” yelled the children as the team pulled away. Shouts of thanks and laughter echoing around the playground proved that no matter where children grow up, they all love to play.
The 15th MEU is currently embarked as part of the Peleliu Amphibious Ready Group while they serve as the nation’s rapid response, sea-based Marine Air Ground Task Force for Western Pacific Deployment 12-02.