Volunteers make Christmas very merry, international

Sixth graders Elijah Lopez, Sollars Elementary School, and Taisho Sawagashira, Oirase Town Elementary School, learn each others' names during the shoe game during the 18th Annual Oirase Town/Misawa base children's cultural exchange party, Dec. 4, 2010, at Misawa Air Base, Japan. Volunteers from around the base staffed the event. (courtesy photo)

Sixth graders Elijah Lopez, Sollars Elementary School, and Taisho Sawagashira, Oirase Town Elementary School, learn each others' names during the shoe game during the 18th Annual Oirase Town/Misawa base children's cultural exchange party, Dec. 4, 2010, at Misawa Air Base, Japan. Volunteers from around the base staffed the event. (courtesy photo)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- Christmas came early to the Misawa area Dec. 4 when base volunteers made it possible for sixth graders from Oirase Town and their counterparts from Sollars and Cummings Elementary Schools to unite. The children had the opportunity to learn about each other's culture during the 18th annual Oirase/Misawa Air Base Sixth Grade Christmas Cultural Exchange party.

The annual event took place at the Sollars gym/cafeteria and was staffed with volunteers from around the base community such as Focus 5/6 and the Air Force Sergeant's Association.

Staff Sgt. Daniel Vargas, a volunteer form the 35th Fighter Wing Judge Advocate, started the day off for the Japanese guests, greeting them at the gate and facilitating a base wide- bus tour.

Upon their arrival to Sollars, the children arrived were divided into equal mixed groups and proceeded to participate in games and activities. While one group played games, the other group went to the international cultural corner.

Through interactive games they learned each others' names and got a chance to ask questions of the other culture. "Do you like sushi?" "Can you ice skate?" "What is your favorite (Japanese or American) food?" These types of questions gave the children an insight into each others' lives.

Volunteers Tech. Sgt. Sgt Eric Dawkins, 35th Civil Engineer Squadron, and spouse, Cori, came up with fun games using chopsticks that had children working together to move objects such as hoops and balloons.

After 90 minutes, energy needed to be replenished. Master Sgt. Matthew Newlon, 35th Civil Engineer Squadron, along with other volunteers passed out pizzas and drinks to the hungry group. This also gave the two cultures a chance to mesh, as the children tried to communicate with gestures and other expressions while they ate.

All tanked up and ready to go on, they returned to the gym where the Japanese children taught everyone an original Christmas song in English and Japanese. The song sheet had the Japanese words written in romanji so the American kids and adults picked it up in no time.

At the finale, each child paired up with another and presented their new friend with a Christmas present they had brought. Then it was on to the Weasels' Den where they continued with free play.

Instead of good-bye, there were lots of jaa-nee (see you) and Ome-de-tou Me-ri  Ku-ri-su-ma-su (Merry Christmas) with smiles and waves as everyone departed.

The annual Oirase/Misawa Air Base Sixth Grade Christmas Cultural Exchange party is one of many events at the bases DODD schools aimed at raising cultural awareness and forging relationships between U.S. and Japanese children.