“Bring me something orange!”
Children scattered throughout the courtyard, trying to be the first to find something in the color Cpl. Dejon Pruitt called for.
Four U.S. Marines deployed for a routine rotation to the Philippines from November 2015 to April 2016; Pruitt, Cpl. Antonio Goodson, Cpl. Lucas Boyer and Cpl. Blake Fleming wanted to make the best of their deployment, while also making a positive impact in the local community.
When the Marines were first deployed to the Philippines they were determined to go beyond their mission to brighten some children’s days. They found a children's home in Manila where they were able to help improve the facilities. As their deployment was coming to an end, the Marines knew their work was not yet done in Manila. The Marines decided to take another trip five months later to visit the kids and continue improving the home. They plan to make one more visit before they leave their unit, 3rd Law Enforcement Battalion, III Marine Headquarters Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force, to install a cooling system in the home.
“Being adopted myself, I love the opportunity to give back to other orphans and make them smile,” said Goodson, who was adopted from a children’s home in the United States at a young age.
During their off time, Pruitt and his friend Boyer from Sealy, Texas, went in to the city of Manila looking for a children's home at which they could volunteer. The language barrier made it difficult to communicate exactly where they hoped to go, but a taxi driver eventually understood. After the driver weaved through the traffic of Manila, he pulled up to a tall stone wall giving the Marines the impression that they were about to enter a castle. Inside was the White Cross Children’s Home. They immediately knew they could help make the home more enjoyable for the kids.
“I wanted to make a lasting impact on the people of the Philippines,” said Pruitt, from Pensacola, Florida. “As a Marine, I wanted to show them we were capable of more than just coming to their country to train.” Pruitt noticed the children’s home could use some improvements. The hard floor was a danger for the toddlers to play on, and the only source to protect the kids from the extreme heat was a series of eight-inch metal fans hanging from the ceiling.
With the assistance of the 13 other Marines deployed to the Philippines during that time, they were able to pool together $2,700, allowing them to put in a padded play area for the kids. They provided diapers, toys, food and medicine for more than 130 children living at White Cross at the time. They visited the home three more times before their deployment came to an end. They were also given the opportunity to volunteer at an all-girls home, Little Home of Nazareth, for which they were able to raise $500 to also support.
They played many activities with the boys and girls, but their favorite game was tag. Pruitt recalled the resilient children would not give up, no matter how fast the other kids and Marines were running. “One adorable little girl taught me how to play patty cake,” Goodson, from Berwick, Pennsylvania, said. All of the kids had very different personalities; the one thing they did have in common was their energy level, according to Pruitt.
“When we would walk through the gates, the kids would see us and start running full speed,” Pruitt said. “If you could stay on your feet, good for you because they would try to tackle you to the ground just to get your attention.”
During their last trip to White Cross in April, the kids knew it was the last time they would see the Marines. For the first time, Pruitt saw the kids disobey the staff. When told to go upstairs, the children stayed steadfast on the stairway, hesitant to say their goodbyes. The children continued to ask if they were going to see the Marines again, and the children made them promise to come back. “I knew I would be taking leave back to Manila,” Pruitt announced, compelled to keep his promise to the kids.
Before the Marines left Little Home of Nazareth, the girls formed up like a choir and started to sing a song called “Welcome to Our Family.” “It was one of the most beautiful, emotionally moving things I had ever experienced,” Pruitt said. “I will be forever grateful for them.”
In September 2016 the Marines kept their promise and returned to the White Cross Children’s Home for eight days to continue making improvements.
The Marines plan to make one more trip to Manila before they move on to their next duty stations. They set a goal to supply an air-conditioning system for the children, powered by an alternative natural power source. The Marines continue to volunteer at a local children’s home in Okinawa, along with other volunteering opportunities. According to Goodson, volunteering strengthens community relations, creating a more positive environment for everyone there.
“It's so important for Marines to get out and volunteer in the community,” Pruitt said. “Especially when stationed overseas, because it gives a populace, who would otherwise have no interaction with Marines, the opportunity to see what kind of people we are and what we are capable of.”