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Japan beckons Ahoskie child

AHOSKIE – At age 12, Justin Saunders has already enjoyed what he feels is a full life.

At Ahoskie Elementary School, he is an Honor Roll (all “A’s” and “B’s”) student who counts math, social studies and science among his favorite subjects.

Outside the classroom, he enjoys training of another sort as a student in Master William Burke’s Martial Arts class. There he has earned a “Green Belt.”

At Riddick Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Belvidere (Chowan County), Justin is active in Youth Choir, Youth Church and Praise Dancing. He has also portrayed roles in church plays.

And, as a typical male, he loves basketball, football and baseball.

But of everything accomplished in the first 12 years of his life, he has yet to experience what the rest of the world has to offer.

That will change this summer when Justin travels to Japan for a two-week visit. The trip, arranged through the People to People Ambassadors program, will be his first outside the borders of the United States.

“I can’t wait,” said Justin, the son of Bonnie and James Saunders of Ahoskie. “It doesn’t bother me knowing that I’m going to a strange place. I see it as a challenge.”

Justin noted that even before finding out about the trip, he had always dreamed of visiting a far-away land, especially Japan.

“They tell me that I’ll better appreciate what I have, how lucky I am, after visiting another country,” Justin said. “I guess I’ll go find that out for myself.”

As part of the “Land of the Rising Sun” program, Saunders will visit the Japanese cities of Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima. He departs June 20 and returns July 4. His lodging will be with a Japanese family.

“I will attend one of their schools for two days,” Justin noted. “Other than that, I guess my group will be seeing a lot of the Japanese landmarks and learning their culture.”

Never let it be said that Justin isn’t prepared for his trip. He said he is taking two pairs of tennis shoes because, “I plan to wear out at least one pair while walking to see all the sights.”

Meanwhile, back at home, Bonnie Saunders said she doesn’t plan to worry about her son.

“I’m excited for him…I think this trip will help him down the road with college; help to broaden his outlook on life and on the world,” she said. “I won’t worry about him…all I told him was to call me every night.”

To date, Justin and his family have conducted a few fundraisers in an effort to generate the $7,000 needed to cover the costs associated with the trip. Those wishing to make a donation can receive more information by contacting the Saunders family at 332-6721.

As part of the agreement, Justin will share his travel journal, photos and experiences with contributors upon his return.

Formed in 1956 thanks to the work of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the People to People Ambassadors program allows ordinary citizens of different nations to communicate directly. The ambassadors have gone to 34 countries on all seven continents in the history of the program.

Since its founding, People to People has launched numerous international programs, including Sister Cities and Project HOPE.

Due to the educational aspects of the program, People to People Ambassadors can earn high school and college credits.

In a letter sent to Justin from Mary Jean Eisenhower, the granddaughter of Dwight D. Eisenhower and the President and CEO of People to People International, she told him, “By venturing beyond your local borders, you will represent the very best of your home to the rest of the world. You will gain insight to new cultures, forge lasting friendships with global counterparts and help promote peace and human dignity.”