Last week I had the opportunity to travel to two local islands with the American Women's Welfare Association. For those of you not in Okinawa, the Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force officers' spouses have gift shops on the island where you can go shop for items from all over Asia at amazing prices. I have found some great items that look exactly like things I have seen in the Pottery Barn catalog for a fraction of the price! On the island the enlisted spouses also have thrift shops. All of the profits from all of these shops go to the American Women's Welfare Association (AWWA). AWWA then takes the money and divides them between American and Japanese charities. Last year, we gave over $85,000 to Japanese charities. A large money of the money designated to Japanese charities goes to the islands of Miyako and Ishigaki. Every year AWWA takes a trip to those islands to tour the facilities that we have given money to over the nearly 40 years AWWA has been in existence. I am on the executive board for the Marine Officers' Spouse's Club and was given an opportunity to go on the trip.
In the four days we were there, we toured TWENTY-THREE facilities! It was absolutely exhausting, but I am so thankful I went.
We had such a warm welcome at the airport!
First we went to two mayors' offices in Ishigaki.
Then we started our first day with some of the sweetest little kids.
I can't believe I didn't bring one home with me! Look at those faces!
At another orphanage, these sweet kids did a little dance and gave us handmade paper necklaces.
The majority of the facilities we visited were nursing homes. People in this region are known as the longest living people on earth. We went to quite a few places that had around four people who were over 100 years old, and the approximate average was mid-nineties. Although the most impressive thing was their wrinkles, or should I say the lack thereof! Incredible!A few of the facilities that cater to adults with special needs will teach them skills, usually making a product that they can turn around and sell. This helps the facility become less reliant on the government for funding, and many people are able to eventually go out into the city and find jobs.
The Japanese are really big on gift giving and at each place we gave and received a gift from the staff and those who use the facility.
At many of the places they put on a little show for us, and in return we did a little song and dance for them! I have never done the "Hokey Pokey" so many times in my life! It was a great song though because although we were singing in English, it is pretty easy to follow along and they could dance with us.
The directors of the facilities on each island threw a banquet for us. Of course a show was involved. The appreciation for the money and gifts given by our organizations was overwhelming.
We added to the show by doing the "Cha-cha Slide"! It was such fun!
Here is a picture of a few girls teaching us how to do an Okinawan dance!
The trip wasn't all business. On our last day, we got to do a little sightseeing and even got a chance to put our feet in the absolutely gorgeous water!
There were 18 of us who went on the trip and 9 of us were Marine Officers' Spouses' Club members so we had to show our love with "MOSC" written in the sand. In the background you can see a bus that our organization helped fund.
As the title of this blog says, this truly was the trip of a lifetime. It was beautiful to see efforts on both the American and Japanese sides to bridge the gap between the two cultures, particularly on Okinawa and it's surrounding islands. Next year AWWA will celebrate its 40th anniversary. I sincerely hope these relationships remain for many years to come!
For more pictures, check out AWWA's facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid=67223431648