DJIBOUTI, Djibouti – Djibouti, Africa contains a population of approximately 700,000, vulnerable to famine, drought and conflict in the neighboring countries of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. Yet, everyday hundreds risk their lives, escaping violence and poverty to seek refuge in the more peaceful and politically stable environment the Horn of Africa has to offer. This is due in part to the international and U.S. forces, like Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa at Camp Lemonnier, which builds and strengthens partnerships to contribute to security and stability in the region.
Thousands of refugees in the Republic of Djibouti are orphaned children anywhere between the ages of 7 and 17, and only a small fraction of them fall into the devoted care of someone like Father John, who runs a shelter in the city and welcomed Marines and Sailors deployed with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) to visit with the children for a few hours at his day shelter, Nov. 16.
Father John said the shelter receives pleasant visits from many international forces personnel who seek selfless service and experience life at the shelter.
The shelter is run by Caritas, an international, non-government organization (NGO) that aims to provide healthcare, promote education and support street children. The organization also tackles issues relating to women and works to provide medical care to expecting mothers.
“Caritas [exists] to welcome street children,” Father John said.
“When they come here, they spend three years at the shelter and go on to the local primary school to continue to learn how to write, to read and to count.”
Marines and Sailors spent time teaching the children the English alphabet and how to spell various words that started with each letter.
Marines and Sailors then participated in a spirited soccer match with the children in the shelter’s courtyard.
“It sends a message to the community that we are their friends and that when Sailors and Marines come into their country we represent the goodness of America and we represent the idea that America cares about all people,” said. U.S. Navy Lt. Commander Darren Stennett, 13th MEU chaplain.
Chaplain Stennett partnered with Navy volunteers from Camp Lemonnier Chapel program to coordinate the visit. Project Hand Clasp also provided the shelter school, medical and recreational supplies.
“It’s good for the Marines and Sailors to get out and see the community,” Stennett said. “I think it’s good for our Sailors and Marines to understand what it is like in the rest of the world. It broadens them as Sailors and Marines.”
The 13th MEU continues its dedicated involvement to community relation projects while deployed with the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group as a theater reserve and crisis response force throughout the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.