FOL Manta helps give away 6,500 backpacks
By Capt. Ashley Norris, 478th Expeditionary Operations Squadron Public Affairs
/ Published May 12, 2008
FORWARD OPERATING LOCATION MANTA, Ecuador -- Last week members of FOL Manta helped give away 6,500 backpacks that were purchased by the U.S. Embassy in Quito, Ecuador for underprivileged children.
The Embassy selected 23 schools in Manabí province with underprivileged children in areas affected by flooding: Portoviejo, Chone and Manta. Each student received a backpack embroidered with the phrase "Sin drogas vives major" meaning without drugs you live better and inside each backpack was a water bottle, paper, pencils and for children in grades 3-6, a Spanish-English dictionary.
Technical Sergeant Alf Thompson, Quality Assurance Evaluator, went to the school Escuela Cuenca, near the town of Portoviejo and said that there has been an influx of children at the school because families living in outlying areas have had their homes destroyed and have moved to the city to live with their extended family. This year Ecuador saw some of its worst flooding in two decades; Manabí province was one of the worst hit. Some of the schools were turned into shelters for families who lost their homes to the floods and landslides. The beginning of the school year was delayed by a month so that the schools could clean and make repairs.
The entire event was carefully orchestrated by members of the U.S. Embassy, for example, the backpacks were purchased in Ecuador so that the money being spent would go back into the local economy. Staff Sergeant Elton Gill, 478 Chaplain Assistant, attended all four days of backpack distribution and said that it went without a hitch. "It was very well organized," said Gill, the kids were well behaved and the staff at all the schools were very hospitable.
"You could just see the smile on the kids faces as they were getting them, almost like it was Christmastime for them or a birthday," said Gill. "I was just glad to be a part of that. I'd be willing to do it again in a heartbeat."
"It was like you're going to a sporting event because all the kids are cheering for you and you're the heroes of the day. Everyone has their hands in the air, they're clapping; it was a good experience," said Thompson.
The 478th Expeditionary Operations Squadron first sergeant Senior Master Sergeant Greg Moore said, "We're constantly working with the Embassy to help people in need in Manabí province. This was particularly wonderful because we were able to put smiles on 6,500 children's faces and prepare them for the new school year." Moore said he hopes that the FOL would be able to continue to do projects like this in the future but the operating agreement with Ecuador is set to expire in November 2009 and currently isn't expected to be renewed.
FOL Manta is strategically located in Manta, Ecuador in support of Joint Interagency Task Force South's efforts in the Eastern Pacific Ocean to stop transnational narcotics movement. As a result of missions launched from the FOL Manta, already in 2008, 59 metric tons of cocaine valued at over $1.17 billion have been seized.