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Operation Southern Partner servicemembers paint brighter future in Belize

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III
  • Defense Media Activity-San Antonio
Nearly a dozen servicemembers of Operation Southern Partner found time between their subject matter exchanges to help renovate and enhance the New Stella Maris School for the Physically Disabled with a fresh coat of paint here June 8.

The small, 13-classroom school in the Belize City center was founded in 1958 and named under the patronage of "Our Lady of the Sea," Latin for Stella Maris and has always catered to children with disabilities.1

The school started with only five enrollees, but presently teaches 135 students. The students are taught practical and academic programs such as sewing, gardening and cooking as well as reading, writing and arithmetic to prepare them for the future.

"Oftentimes we feel like outcasts, and though the government is 100 percent behind our efforts it's not often we get outsider assistance," said1Joy Westbay, the school principal. "We appreciate it. Just the new appearance motivates us."

For members of Operation Southern Partner, the experience was a rewarding one. Most of the volunteers have full schedules during the 12th Air Force-led event aimed at providing intensive, periodic subject matter exchanges with partner nations in the U.S. Southern Command area of focus.

The operation features more than 50 U.S. Air Force subject matter experts from about 25 career fields covering 79 topics shared between seven locations in two weeks working alongside partner nation military members in similar career specialties during exchanges in St. Lucia, Barbados, Granada, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Belize.

Lt. Col. Alan Struthers, the mission commander,1was also on hand armed with a paintbrush, and, like most of the other participants, covered in1colored paint.

"I think our mission here has been a total success with both the painting and working with our partner nation," Colonel Struthers said. "We are able with a handful of folks to better the facility and make a huge impact for the students."

Mrs. Westbay said one of the school's main goals is to provide an area that's conducive to learning and painting the building would have been a costly undertaking due to lack of supplies and manpower.

"We are so grateful. Having a newer look helps to teach the children the responsibilities it will take to keep it this way," she said. "Besides that, the children need us all and all the compassion they can get."

Operation Southern Partner lasts through June 13.