A world away, Troop 84 lends a helping hand

3 Aug 2005 | Sgt. Brian E. McElaney

July 28, 2005
A world away, Troop 84 lends a helping hand
By: Sgt. Brian E. McElaney

At the Djibouti City Girls' Orphanage, many of the girls have friends, family or tribes to look after some of their basic needs and give them a place to visit in the summer months between school seasons.  However, there are many who have no one to turn to... depending on the orphanage and the kindness of strangers to lend a helping hand.

Little did these girls know that a group of Cub Scouts in California organized to do just that by collecting shoes for those in need.

First Sgt. Lawrence Wei, Operations Chief for Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa Future Plans and assistant Cub master for Cub Scout Pack 84 in Petaluma, Calif., distributed new shoes collected by the pack to the neediest girls at the orphanage, July 25.

"My first visit at the girls' orphanage was during a renovation of their bakery," said Wei, "While I was there, I noticed that maybe one-third of them were wearing shoes.  I asked the director if it would be ok if I helped organize a shoe drive and he gave the 'Ok.'"

Wei contacted his wife and the 60 Cub Scouts of Pack 84 with details on what the orphanage needed.  The pack went to work collecting over 100 pair of shoes and sending them to Africa.  According to Wei, such projects are vital to the boy scout way of life.

"A big part of being a Boy Scout is lending a helping hand," said Wei.  "Part of the leadership development scouting provides comes from teaching the kids about outreach programs and how to help make a difference."
However, scouting projects are often carried out in the local community... not halfway across the world, according to Wei.  Therefore, the shoe collection provided an excellent opportunity for the scouts to participate in a unique project.

"This is very much out of the ordinary," said Wei.  "I don't think it's ever been done in the history of our pack... helping people 8,000 miles away.  With everything we have and the opportunities for education back home, these boys have no clue how good they have it often times.  They were really excited to be able to help out this way."

Many of the shoes were sold to the scouts by Birkenstock, a local shoe manufacturer, for discounted prices... allowing the troop to send high quality sandals for the girls to wear in the upcoming school year.  According to Wei, the girls were thrilled with the gift.

"They were just so extremely happy to get a new pair of shoes," he said.

Yonis Awad Djama, director of the orphanage, applauded Pack 84's efforts and thanked them for their efforts to help the girls ability to learn. 

"Education knows no boundaries, no color, no race," he said.  "We appreciate those who understand this and are willing to help us educate these girls."

The girls there understand the importance of such an education, a fact that Wei found interesting while he talked with them.

"At one point, I asked the kids what they wanted or needed," explained Wei.  "What shocked me was their response - they said they wanted to learn English!  They didn't ask for candy or toys or anything like that... it seemed like such a mature answer for a child to give." 

Wei hopes to continue organizing donations for the orphanage after he returns to the United States through the CJTF-HOA chaplain's office, who helped coordinate the Boy Scout's donation.  He said it gave the scouts something to focus on beyond themselves, and that such projects are terrific ways for scouts to lend a helping hand.

"This scout troop crosses all social boundaries - we have kids who don't have a lot and others which do," he said.  "One of the great things about Boy Scouts is that they are all on the same level while they are there no matter where they came from - and working toward a common goal.  Helping these girls is a great project for them."

Donations for orphanages in Djibouti can be arranged through the CJTF-HOA chaplain's office.  To arrange for a donation, e-mail the chaplain at
Headquarters Marine Corps