Soldiers on Okinawa teach English, strengthen bonds with local youth community
TORII STATION, Okinawa (Aug. 14, 2012) -- It is a humid Friday morning in Okinawa and Soldiers from the 10th Regional Support Group here make their way inside the Sobe Community Center in Yomitan Village. They welcome the coolness of the air-conditioner and notice the smiles and cheers from local Japanese students who are there to grasp the English language.
As the Soldiers place study materials and bags of candy on a table, the children demonstrate to them their progress by saying, "welcome." The Soldiers respond in their students' native language, "Arigatou gozaimasu," or, "Thank you."
The Soldiers teach the students fundamental English, to include numbers and common phrases. The preferred method of teaching involves students hearing the words, speaking them, and then transition to using words in a sentence. The technique reinforces and instills patience in the students, as evidenced by their continual smiles and laughter throughout the one-hour class.
"It is better when both parties are receptive to learning," said Master Sgt. James Young, assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 10th RSG. "These classes serve to foster a great relationship between Soldiers and the neighboring community."
Young, a third-year English instructor, added that cultural exchanges are vital to the mission of the Army on Okinawa.
"This allows the youth to see us [as something] other than a military force," said Young. "Any time you're stationed in another country, it's a great idea to be an asset within the host nation, breaking down barriers of communication."
The classes are a result of the interaction with Sobe Ward District representatives in Yomitan Village. The classes assist students in preparing for an ever-changing society where knowing more than one language is becoming the norm, said Yumiko Uchima, a community relations officer assigned to U.S. Army Garrison Torii Station.
"It's very important for the children to understand the different cultures and similarities within [different] societies," said Uchima. "The classes provide students something productive to do during the summer vacation. The students love the class."
The English language instruction program began in 2011. The 10th RSG, in coordination with USAG-Torii Station, provides Soldiers opportunities to assist with the cultural exchange programs that strengthen the relationship between Army units there and their local communities. The Soldiers teach twice a week for one hour at the Sobe Community Center.
The community engagement serves as a platform for Soldiers to give back to their neighboring community while strengthening the relationship between the citizens of Okinawa and the Americans living and working there.
Norihiko Ikehara, chief of the Sobe Ward District Chief, said he has received positive feedback from the community regarding this important initiative.
"The class brings with it joy and excitement to the children," said Ikehara. "Each week they look forward to it and are very interested in learning new things."
After more than 50 minutes of instruction, the tempo changes as the students write down a few things they have learned during the session. In return, candy is offered for displaying their knowledge and skill. Young said he believes the class will have a lasting impact on all the children.
"The smiles on the faces of the students is what I like the best," said Young. "These sessions serve to improve the relationship between the American Soldiers and the local community, one smile at a time."