Members of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) recently invited children from a local orphanage to join them for a day of fun at Camp Navarro. They spent an afternoon playing and swimming with the children at the beach. The JSOTF-P Chaplain helped organize the outings.
“These kids are well taken care of, but don’t get out a lot,” said the Chaplain. “By volunteering to support and helping the staff members at these institutions, we’re able to make an immediate and positive impact on their lives.”
JSOTFP- support for the local orphanages has been an ongoing effort for several years, and the impetus for this effort starts at the top. As the Chaplain describes it, “when I arrived in October, Col. Robert McDowell, the JSOTF-P Commander, told me, ‘Chaplain, I want you to keep the orphanage trips going. It’s good for the kids, and it’s a good morale booster for the members of JSOTF-P.’” This top-down emphasis is reinforced throughout the JSOTF-P staff, especially the Marines, “with the help of the Marine Security Element, we do our best to improve the lives of those kids.”
In the coming weeks the Chaplain is planning a sports day and a pizza party for the children. The money to buy the pizza will come from voluntary donations made by JSOTF-P members. With strong command support, institutional appreciation, and willing participants from among the JSOTF-P staff, the effort to engage with the children will continue.
On the beach, the orphanage Head Nurse, Jessica Agustin, surveyed the scene with a smile on her face. She looked on as the orphanage staff stands in the shallow water laughing alongside some of the JSOTF-P volunteers.
“The kids really love it,” said Agustin. “They run up, grab a military member, and drag them into the water. Once they start playing and splashing around they don’t want to leave the beach.”
The kids aren’t the only ones who look forward to the excursions. For the members of JSOTF-P, spending time with these children is therapeutic.
“It helps us forget how much we miss our families and our own kids,” said the Chaplain. Another JSOTF-P member said it opens your eyes to what you have.
“When you see others who are less fortunate than you, it makes you grateful for what, and who, you have.”
The positive impact of the volunteer’s efforts affects more than just the children and local JSOTF-P members.
“I’ve noticed how generous people are since I’ve been involved,” said the Chaplain. “The JSOTF-P members who volunteer to visit these orphanages share the experience with family and friends back home, and the response is always the same, ‘how can we help?’ People end up sending boxes of supplies that the orphanage needs like baby whips, diapers, and children’s clothes. It’s great to see how caring people are.”
For many of the servicemembers the greatest reward for volunteering is a child’s simple facial expressions.
“The excitement and smiles on every face is the best reward you can get,” said a JSOTF-P member. “The moment you walk in the door, or show up on the beach, it’s like the kids pick you. They rush towards you and the first one to get to you wants to spend all day with just you. It makes you feel special.”