Troops lend a hand at Okinawa school founded to combat cross-cultural bullying
By CARLOS M. VAZQUEZ II | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 17, 2019
GINOWAN, Okinawa — Sailors, Marines and the students of AmerAsian School in Okinawa recently picked up brooms and paint brushes to tidy up the campus before the start of the next school term in the fall.
A group of 30 servicemembers volunteered their free time Monday to help clean hallways, classrooms and outdoor areas.
“The kids are excited to see them and have role models to look up to,” said principal Ayako Komine.
AmerAsian School in Okinawa is a nonprofit organization established in 1998 by mothers who needed a school for their mixed-race children, according to the school’s website.
“Five mothers of half-American and half-Japanese children began homeschooling their kids,” Komine said of the school’s origin. “Kids who were either facing some sort of discrimination or bullying in the Japanese public school system started contacting these mothers to see if they can join in the initiative.”
Since 1985, Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has kept a record of incidents of bullying, or ijime, and reported a record high number of 414,378 cases across Japan during the 2017 school year.
AmerAsian School has 67 students and 11 full-time teachers who instruct prekindergarten to ninth grade in English and Japanese. Each class has an average of five to six students.
Komine said most of the students come from retired military families or have a servicemember parent who left Japan.
To reach out to those children, servicemembers have visited the school three times in the past academic year to help arrange classrooms, paint outdoor picnic tables and build a miniature library in the hallway.
Lance Cpl. RyanDave Eban volunteered on all three occasions. He was inspired, he said, to join the Marines and to help out at the school based on the humanitarian assistance provided by U.S. servicemembers that he saw growing up in the Philippines.
“I feel proud and happy to give back,” Eban said, looking at the picnic table he painted during his previous visit to the school. “When you’re cleaning with them, that’s always a good part, because they look at you in awe and like a good example.”
He said he hopes his volunteering can inspire others, counter the negative image created by protests outside U.S. bases on the island and counter the bad behavior of some servicemembers.
Most U.S. troops are kindhearted, he said, and are willing to give back to the communities where they serve.
After cleaning the school, painting scuffed walls and organizing supplies, the servicemembers found time to play games with small groups of students around campus before leaving for the day.
“It’s great to have them around and we very much appreciate their help,” Komine said. “We’re really glad that this relationship has continued to develop.”