HONG KONG -- When Marines and sailors deploy with a Marine Expeditionary Unit, they have the chance to travel to many parts of the world and experience a vibrant range of cultures. Some service members choose to use their time when visiting ports to volunteer, help the local community and connect with citizens of a foreign nation on a more personal level.
During the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Western Pacific deployment, Marines and sailors deployed aboard USS Rushmore volunteered their time to visit the Lok Hing Child Care Centre where they visited children with learning disabilities, during a liberty visit to Hong Kong, April 17.
When they reached the centre, the Marines and sailors were immediately greeted by the smiles of enthusiastic children and care givers, applauding and anxious for the fun times they were about to have. After they were introduced, the servicemembers played games, danced with children, demonstrated military drill, learned Cantonese and shared memorable experiences with the kids and faculty.
Lok Hing Child Care Centre is a facility that cares for children with special educational needs by providing development programs, parent support and education, therapy and child care services. They were glad to welcome the chaplain and his team of volunteers to brighten each child’s day.
“We help children with special needs reach their full potential through many programs,” said Jacinta Chan Yin Ching, a teacher at Lok Hing Child Care Centre. “A lot of the children are very shy and being able to play with the military members provides a good opportunity for them to warm up to strangers and have a fun time. The children had fun and we are happy that [the Marines and sailors] came to visit.”
The Rushmore has visited many liberty ports, but this was the first time they were able to volunteer and help out in the local community. It provided a chance for members of the U.S. military to reach out and connect with citizens of another country while working toward a caring goal.
“We went to a rehabilitation center to uplift the spirits of the children there,” said Cpl. Cameron M. Sales, heavy equipment operator, Engineer Detachment, Combat Logistics Battalion 15, 15th MEU. “It was great seeing them happy when we were playing and dancing with them. My daughter is a part of a similar program, so this experience really brought it home for me. It’s nice to connect with children no matter what country you’re in,” added the 24-year-old native of Lodi, Calif.
One common ground between Marines and sailors is the reasons they joined. Some joined for a college education, others for a secure career, but universally they joined because of a strong urge to help out their country and others.
“It was a humbling experience, being able to give back to a community,” said Lance Cpl. Oswald G. Lewis, motor transportation operator, CLB-15, 15th MEU. “As Marines and sailors we join to help others. Doing volunteer work and visiting these kids shows a positive image of the military,” added Lewis, a 21-year-old native of Miami.
Not only did the event leave a positive image on behalf of servicemembers, it also became a learning experience and memory the Marines and sailors would never forget.
“It was a chance for us to exchange time and presence from one culture to another,” said Navy Lt. Stephen Zachary, chaplain, CLB-15, 15th MEU. “It’s a welcoming experience to work with children in a foreign country. And in a brief amount of time we were able to share our cultures and create a heartwarming moment, something that can’t be bought. This was one of the best moments of the deployment, something that will truly make me remember Hong Kong,” added Zachery, a 50-year-old native of Oceanside, Calif.
The 15th MEU is comprised of approximately 2,400 Marines and sailors and is deployed as part of the Peleliu Amphibious Ready Group. Together, they provide a forward-deployed, flexible sea-based Marine Air Ground Task Force capable of conducting a wide variety of operations ranging from humanitarian aid to combat.