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Musicians Bring Hope to Kiribati School

11 June 2015

From Sgt. James Gulliver, USMC, Pacific Partnership Public Affairs

Soldiers with Army Band Hawaii and Sailors from the U.S. Pacific Fleet Band performed at the School and Center for Children with Disabilities in Kiribati June 8.

KIRIBATI - Soldiers with Army Band Hawaii and Sailors from the U.S. Pacific Fleet Band, embarked aboard Joint High Speed Vessel USNS Millinocket (JHSV 3), performed at the School and Center for Children with Disabilities in Kiribati June 8.

The event was part of Pacific Partnership 2015 and was gave the children a chance to interact with the Marines, Soldiers and Sailors embarked aboard Millinocket for PP15.

“Mauri!” said the boisterous students, welcoming the Pacific Partnership Joint U.S. Navy and Army Band and swarming the stage to see the musical instruments.

After the students found their seats, members of the band began playing, “The Saints Go Marching In,” and immediately caught the attention of the eager children.

“These types of events really bring out the best in our band,” said Senior Chief Musician Erik Desantis, the band leader. “These guys love coming out here and putting a smile on these young kids faces.”

The School and Center for the Children with Disabilities is the only school in Kiribati that offers an education to children who are blind, crippled, deaf or disabled in any way.

“Our mission is to make sure these children have an education and a bright future ahead of them,” said Linda Uan, the superintendent of the school. “All our children are disabled in some way, but they all have gifts and talents that most people do not see.”

The band members let the deaf and blind children touch their instruments while they played so they could feel the vibrations in the instruments.

“This is why we are so passionate about our music - it’s a bonding experience between us and these wonderful children,” said Desantis. “This is an experience that myself and my musicians will not forget anytime soon.”

The school houses more than 170 children from all over Kiribati, all of whom showed up to see the performance. The children sang the U.S. National Anthem and numerous other songs to express their thanks for the band.

“Normally when we go to these types of events, we are the only ones performing,” said Desantis. “Rarely do you see the audience step up and perform music for us, it made all of our guys feel warm and welcomed.”

The band members took time out of their performance to dance with the teachers and children. Some of the children who could not stand eagerly clapped and sung along. The band played numerous songs based around a standard New Orleans style of music.

“My favorite part of the performance was being able to dance with the Marines,” said Koriri Tioti, the principal of the school. “They are really good dancers.”

During their performance, members of the band passed around a tambourine and cowbell for the children to play along with them.

“The children loved this experience, I’ve never seen so many smiles on their faces,” said Uan. “This type of event really gives them hope and takes their minds off whatever problems or pain they might be enduring.”

The children concluded the event singing about their school and country in their native language. The song ended with, “hold our hands and guide us, please don’t turn your backs on us.”

Millinocket is in Kiribati through June 18 and PP15 personnel are currently conducting various humanitarian and civic assistance projects, as well as veterinary, medical, dental and civil engineering support.

Now in its tenth iteration, Pacific Partnership is the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. While training for crisis conditions, Pacific Partnership missions to date have provided medical care to approximately 270,000 patients and veterinary services to more than 38,000 animals. Additionally, the mission has provided critical infrastructure development to host nations through the completion of more than 180 engineering projects.

Pacific Partnership 2015 supporting partners include Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Canada, Timor Leste, Fiji, and France. Non-governmental organizations also participating are Project Hope, Operation Smile, Latter Day Saints Charities, University of California San Diego, University of Virginia, University of Hawaii, Project Handclasp, and World Vets.

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