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Airmen spend day with Chilean children

  • Published
  • By Capt. Nathan D. Broshear
  • 12th Air Force Public Affairs (Air Forces Southern)
Airmen in Chile as part of an exchange with Latin American air forces spent Oct. 30 to brighten the outlook for neglected Chilean children in a suburb of Santiago.

Fourteen Airmen and one Army National Guard member drove to a home for abused or neglected children where the servicemembers gave the children model airplanes to construct and treated the children to cakes.

Airmen were in Chile to share their perspectives on specific career field experiences and techniques with Chilean air force members. During Operation Southern Partner from Oct. 30 to Nov. 7, American servicemembers are working with Latin American forces to learn how each other accomplish their missions. But the American military members wanted to reach out and offer help to those in need in the area.

When the American servicemembers first arrived to the homes, residents timidly approached the uniformed visitors. After a few minutes, a young girl approached Staff Sgt. Mary Johanson and sheepishly asked if she could be picked up and held. Sergeant Johanson, a reservist from March Air Reserve Base in California, then had a steadfast companion on her hip for the duration of the visit.

"That's why we're here," Sergeant Johanson said. "Even after a long day, looking into the eyes of one of these beautiful children awakens the spirit."

The group entered one of the homes and saw how six children shared small house. A single foster mother is responsible for each house, living and working at the center for six consecutive days before having a single day off to recuperate. Four children share a single room -- perfectly neat and orderly due to the strict policy foster mothers enforce.

The center is funded in part by the Chilean government and through private donations. Unfortunately, these resources rarely cover all of the bills, said Patricia Moya, a secretary at the homes for the children. Children placed in the facility are from broken homes or cannot live with their biological family due to legal or abusive situations. While care at the homes strives to provide a stable and positive environment for each child, most are still in need of the basic necessities such as new clothes, books, toys and entertainment.

Airmen planned to put their unique skills to work.

Once the tour of the facility ended, Airmen opened boxes containing model airplane kits. The kits, donated by Agilent Technologies, a technology firm in Santa Clara, Calif., are designed to teach children the fundamentals of flight through interactive and dynamic learning. The center only had one table, so Airmen spread out in small groups around the center, working on the ground, the playground or under the shade of a nearby tree.

The model making experience turned the courtyard into a party atmosphere, with airplanes whizzing by and children running to retrieve their models. Candy, decorative stickers, gifts and laughter flowed as Airmen explained their role in getting real airplanes off the ground to captive audiences. Even the Chilean foster mothers joined in, building their own aircraft.

Meanwhile, Capt. Anabelle Cabreja, the deputy officer in charge for Operation Southern Partner, surprised the foster mothers. She had gone into one of the kitchens with cake mixes to prepare for all the children. Foster mothers worked alongside Airmen to prepare the treats for the children.

"The ovens were a bit smaller than the ones in an American house," Captain Cabreja said. "So the cakes took a bit longer to prepare."

The Airmen wrapped up their visit by distributing toys and posters to the children.