PATTAYA, Thailand --
U.S. Marines and Sailors with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and the USS Anchorage (LPD 23) participated in several community relations events during their stay in Pattaya, Thailand, June 10 and 11, 2015.
Marines and Sailors visited the Fountain of Life Children’s Center and the Khun Bonchoo Home to interact with Thai children and brighten their day with toys and games. These facilities are for underprivileged children and autistic children, respectively.
On June 10, Marines and Sailors played soccer, threw Frisbees, and learned Thai songs and hand motions with children at the Fountain of Life Children’s Center.
Wannee KedKaau, a Thai social worker and teacher at the Fountain of Life Children’s Center said that she was very happy about the visit from Marines, giving the children an opportunity to play with new people and to be polite to visitors. Kedkaau helps these children to get proper identification and birth certificates, prepare for government schooling, advise the parents on schooling and saving money, and foster a loving and supportive environment.
There are currently 94 children between ages 3-14 enrolled at the Fountain of Life Children’s Center.
“Our community relations program strives to enhance the lives of the local populations by offering time to interact, exchange culture and language, and engage in healthy activities such as sports and games to bridge language and cultural barriers” said LCDR Genevieve Clark, the chaplain for USS Anchorage.
Sister Joan Gormley, a nun from Ireland, has been working for the Fountain of Life Children’s Center since 1996 and has dedicated her life to helping children in impoverished locations in Asia.
Gormley explained that many children are from broken families, and lose their sense of identity and self-worth; most do not even know their family name or date of birth.
“Here, disadvantaged children can experience the joys of childhood in a safe, caring, and calm environment,” said Gormley. “Poverty is the enemy of these children and education is the best weapon to fight it.”
Marines and Sailors visited the Khun Bonchoo Home on June 11, to interact with disabled Thai children through games, songs, and dancing.
The children at Khun Bonchoo Home are mainly autistic, have Down’s syndrome or cerebral palsy, but were laughing and smiling all day while interacting with Marines and Sailors.
Marines and Sailors played games with the children like musical chairs with a partner, and knocking down a can by throwing a ball. They also taught the children better throwing techniques and cheered them on as they threw their ball.
“Today caused our Marines and Sailors to serve something greater than themselves,” said Lt. Justin Hayes, the chaplain for Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. “I believe it is a great testament of character that our Sailors and Marines will give up such a large portion of their liberty to go and continue to serve, when that is what they do in their day job,” Hayes continued.
The Marines and Sailors were able to meet Khun Bonchoo herself, the facilities’ namesake, and she gave them a warm welcome. Bonchoo opened the facility on her own land with her own money in 2005, and it has grown immensely since then.
By the time they left the Marines and Sailors had gained a new appreciation for the opportunities that come with being deployed aboard an ARG/MEU, and learned more about themselves in the process.
“These events offered an opportunity for service that, in the end, offered more to the Marines and Sailors than they can ever give; grace, hope, service, understanding, and increased appreciation for all of the world's people,” said Clark. “They will find out that we have more in common than what divides us.”