DJIBOUTI CITY, Djibouti -- Nearly 80 service members, here in support of Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, visited youngsters living at the girls' orphanage here during an open house May 1 to build better relationships with the local community.
"After a lot of talking with the director of the orphanage, we were able to set up the open house to give the men and women at Camp Lemonier (one of CJTF-HOA's bases of operations) the chance to get to know some of the Djiboutian people," said Capt. Ronald M. Klose, the chaplain for Command Logistics Element, Marine Central Command.
During the morning visit, the troops were able to tour the facility.
Klose went on to say, "They showed us where the girls sleep and eat. We also saw what the girls make, such as ceramics, clothing and baskets."
The orphanage is home to 300 girls ranging from ages 5 to 25 years old. To prepare the children for life outside of the orphanage's walls, they are taught practical skills like sewing, baking and basket weaving.
Yonis Aouad Djana, the director of the facility explained, "It's really good for the girls to see that there are people other than Djiboutians that care about what they are up to and how they live. The children like to see that other people are interested in the things they (the girls) make. It's encouraging."
The visit was extremely important for helping the girls realize that life does exist outside of Djibouti. Because most of their interaction is with the people of this small,
east-African country, the girls' perspective of the world is limited to their own language and culture, according to Djana.
"It's so great that the Americans came out to spend time with the girls," he said. "Now they are starting to understand different people of the world. Not everyone speaks our language and does things the same way we do."
However, there was one aspect of the visit the girls had to adapt to. Because the orphanage is restricted to females, the kids have had very little exposure to men.
Djana explained, "There are 300 girls here, and the only men here are me and the few that come to help around here. So now the girls are learning that men are good people, too."
After the children were able to overcome their shyness, the girls began to interact with the men just as they were with the women.
"I'm really glad I got the chance to come out and play with the kids," said Staff Sgt. Neil Hebert, CLE administration chief. "Hopefully, they'll see that we just want to build a relationship of trust, hope and faith."
According to Klose, this visit has not been the first to the orphanage, nor will it be the last. For the past few weeks, a group of troops has been traveling to the orphanage to play soccer with the girls.
"We've been beat to the ground during the last few soccer games," Klose mused. "But it's not about winning or losing, so we'll keep going out and having a good time with the girls."