PHUKET, Thailand --
During their five-day pass from shipboard duty, service members descended on this exotic seafront while 18 others volunteered to clean and paint for a city track-and-field team March 6.
“Without outside help, the team probably would have fallen apart,” said Sean Massey, a 16-year-old Australian who practices with the Phuket Athletic Club. “The conditions aren’t very clean and they don’t have much.”
Twenty-eight of the team’s 30 members live where they practice: at Sarakul Stadium. They share one washing machine, one refrigerator, and one computer. They sleep packed in bedrooms intended to be office spaces on beds made from frames found in garbage heaps. They have their team, their medals and little more.
Massey brought attention to the team’s plight after telling a parent in the Rotary Club of Patong Beach.
K. Amnuay Boonta, who goes by Dong, coaches the nationally competing team with no salary and no government support. He said the stadium offers the boys an alternative to growing up in Phuket neighborhoods where drugs and crime affect many young people.
“The kids actually feel sad and incomplete with how little support they get,” said Dong. “It’s good for the kids to see someone is willing to help out and care about their future.”
The volunteers – service members with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group aboard USS Rushmore – spent the day fixing bent bed frames, cleaning rooms and painting beds and lockers.
“The paradox to being happy is making other people happy rather than just entertaining yourself,” said Lance Cpl. Robert H. Todacheene, a 25-year-old mortarman from Farmington, N.M. “You really can’t understand the culture unless you’re willing to leave the city and see how people really live.”
As the service members worked away, the athletes, aged 13-18, joined in.
“As soon as we set the beds up in their rooms, a bunch of the kids rushed right in them, joking around in no time,” said Lance Cpl. John A. Haldeman, a 21-year-old mortarman from Sellersville, Penn. “To us it’s just a day of working, but to them it’s a better place to live.”
One athlete, Cankasit Tantipnssapan, said teammates were really happy the beds got fixed, adding that nobody had ever helped out that way before.
Dong said his work is not so much about coaching athletes as it is about developing great individuals, and volunteering sets a fine example.