By Cpl. Timothy Valero, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit
The Mike Matthews Learning Center offers educational services to local Burmese children. The children are taught how to read and write in English, Burmese and Thai to further their futures.
“This education they get at the learning center can change the children’s lives and give them a brighter future,” said Sister Lakana Sukhschit, the director of The Mike Matthews Learning Center.
Organized by the chaplains with the Religious Service Team aboard USS San Diego and a local organization in the Pacific Area, the community relation event had a positive impact on the Marines, Sailors and children.
“We have 36 Marines and Sailors here and close to 200 children, and I do not see one person here without a smile on their face today,” said retired Navy Cmdr. David Rucker, president of a local organization in the Pacific Area.
The day started with Marines and Sailors joining the children and staff of the learning center for a welcome ceremony. As the ceremony finished, the service members were escorted by anxious and excited children back to their classrooms. After the shyness wore away, laughs and smiles filled every room of the learning center as the Blue-Green team shared photos and jokes with the children.
“This is a big experience for everyone here,” Sukhschit added. “This allows the children to learn from [the service members] while hopefully the Marines and Sailors walk away feeling like they have contributed to a great cause.”
The laughter spilled into the court yard as the sports equipment was brought out and the school-yard games began in every corner. As time seemed to pass faster than the balls tossed between the Marines, Sailors and children, it was time to sit down together and share a meal.
“There are a lot of smiling faces here, everyone is happy,” add Rucker. “This is an amazing opportunity for the children to interact and play with the [U.S.] service members, which many have never seen let alone interacted with.”
Learning center staff members were appreciative that the Marines and Sailors made a visit. It was obvious that the volunteers gained as much from the visit as the children did.
“This is truly an eye opening and an amazing experience not only for the children of the learning center,” said Peter Lyons, a native of the United Kingdom and volunteer at the learning center. “But also for the service members to get away from the tourist areas and experience a true Thailand and Phuket community.”
Final goodbyes and ‘thank yous’ were shared as the event drew to an end.
“This was a great opportunity to organize this event and work with the good shepherd school. It was a fun experience for me. Definitely the best part of my deployment has been working with the children," said Lt. Cmdr. Jon Maloney, USS San Diego chaplain. The chaplain and the rest of the team parted from their new-found friends at the learning center, with smiles on their faces as they reflected on the friendships they built.
“I hope the service member pass on their experiences from today, encouraging the ships that follow to visit the learning center and experience the local community,” added Lyons. “I know the kids love the visits, and I know the Sailors will just as much, if not more.”