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Quilpue orphanage proves food, love are universal

Quilpue, Chile -- -- Twenty one Airmen from around the Air Force joined the Chilean Air Force and Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern) staff for a holiday visit to the ALDEAS SOS orphanage in Quilpue, Chile Oct. 31st. A Chilean national holiday was a down day from ongoing Operation Southern Partner subject matter exchanges, but almost every participant in the all-new program opted instead to drive more than an hour outside of Santiago to spend the day with the 144 residents of the orphanage.
The group included a large percentage of Spanish-speaking Airmen to ensure accurate communication, but none of the children who greeted the Airmen seemed to notice who was bilingual as play, comfort food and caring dominated the agenda.
ALDEAS SOS is an international child welfare organization devoted to the long-term care of children who are orphaned, abandoned or can no longer live with their biological family. Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern) staff and deployed personnel have been visiting ALDEAS SOS facilities on various trips to Latin America for years, but recently their volunteer work with the organization has become more frequent as new programs such as Operation Southern Partner and events in the region present opportunities for Airmen to meet and interact with children living in the foster homes.
Airmen started the morning by passing out blue footballs emblazoned with the Air Force logo. Key chains, posters, t-shirts, pins and books sent the crowd of children scattering in dozens of different directions, with Airmen forming impromptu groups based on the activity children pursued. Some groups played catch or tag, others read books or experimented with the cameras brought by the visitors, while a few questioned Airmen on their job and life in the United States.
Master Sgt. Kim Reese, an enlisted military education instructor with the Inter American Air Forces Academy in San Antonio, Tex., brought a backpack full of toothbrushes, toothpaste and other sundries for the visit. She delicately wrapped a bow on each present to ensure each gift was special.
Sergeant Reese quickly gained her own entourage as her perfect Spanish language skills, genuine smile and warm embrace drew children of all age groups.
"I could stay here all day," said Sergeant Reese. "My only wish would have been to bring more items to distribute -- the look on each one of these special children's face when they received a personal gift made today the best day of my trip."
One of the central events during the visit was a cultural exchange involving a childhood favorite, Rice Krispy Treats. The holiday mainstay in America isn't something Chileans are used to preparing and serving, so Airmen brought all of the ingredients necessary from grocery stores thousands of miles away in the United States to prepare the sugary snack as a surprise for the children.
"The orphanage supplied the pots and pans; we brought the ingredients...together we made enough snacks for everyone to have a square," said Alfred Basioa, a C-17 pilot with the 535th Airlift Squadron at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. "I knew we had a winner when children were coming back for seconds and thirds -- we were happy to give as much as anyone wanted...the children ate every single slice."
While volunteers cleaned up the main kitchen, aircrew members were challenged to a soccer game on the concrete field located in the back of the compound.
"No one kept score, but I think the general consensus was that the children here are much more skilled at soccer than our aircrew -- these young athletes ran circles around us," said Captain Basioa.
After the soccer game, the aircrew approached Air Force Southern staff, requesting contact information for the center's directors.
"Once you meet these new friends, you realize how there are so many things you take for granted -- a loving mother and father, recreation equipment, clothes and other essentials that are important for a child as they grow up," said Capt. Becky Russo, a C-17 pilot with the 535th Airlift Squadron and volunteer at the event. "I'm hopeful we can return to this center in the future...they've made a big impression on our hearts."
Operation Southern Partner runs through November 7th.
For more information on the event, visit www.12af.acc.af.mil

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