SUBIC BAY, Republic of the Philippines - Sailors from amphibious dock landing ship USS Tortuga visited children at the Helping Hands Healing Hearts Children's Recovery Unit (CRU) in Subic Bay, Philippines, during a community service volunteer opportunity, Oct. 19.
During the visit, Sailors and Marines spent several hours touring the facility, playing outdoor games and enjoyed snacks with the 17 children from the CRU and their caregivers.
"This is an absolutely great experience for Sailors and Marines to have," said 1st Lt. Josh Willemsen, logistics officer for the Combat Logistics Battalion 31. "Many of these wonderful kids were special needs or had physical disabilities, but just being with them and playing for a few hours was so rewarding that I wish we could do it in more ports."
Helping Hands, Healing Hearts is a nonprofit organization that began in 2005 by Claire Henderson in a mission to provide medicine and medical treatment to destitute children that would otherwise not survive.
"I started a ministry for sick children because watching these small kids die from illnesses that I knew were treatable broke my heart," said Henderson. "Initially it was just me going to the hospital, sitting with the kids and giving out free medicine, but then others started to volunteer and it grew from there."
Helping Hands CRU currently has 17 recovering children being taken care of by a full-time team of doctors, nurses, social workers, caregivers and anyone willing to volunteer, such as Sailors and Marines.
"This facility is a blessing for the children," said Laura Martinez, social worker for Helping Hands. "Some of the parents are jobless or homeless so after the children have been hospitalized for whatever reason it is imperative that they are able to come here to continue their treatment and to recover to their full strength."
Since the organization began several hundred children have returned home both healthy and strong.
"We have sent home about 300 hundred healthy children," said Henderson. "We are so thankful for all of the support we receive from individuals, churches and sponsors from Northern Ireland, America, Germany and several others."
Helping Hands Healing Hearts has recently opened a second recovery unit in Baguio City, Republic of the Philippines.
Tortuga is part of the Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group and recently participated in Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHIBLEX) with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
PHIBLEX is an annual bilateral exercise held in conduction with the AFP and is designed to improve interoperability, increase readiness and develop professional and personal relationships between U.S. and Philippine forces.