Airmen in Ecuador have a ball serving local community

  • Published
  • By Maj. Chris Hemrick
  • 478th Expeditionary Operations Squadron Public Affairs
Whether it is sports equipment, school supplies, computers or wheelchairs, Airmen assigned to Manta Forward Operating Location have been all over Ecuador in May making a positive impact on people's lives.

Volunteers from the 478th Expeditionary Operations Squadron here recently completed several community relations events.

At the beginning of May, Manta Airmen completed renovating a classroom for a local handicapped school, including tiling, painting and installing a drop ceiling. But that was just the beginning. The rest of the month included events where volunteers gave truckloads of donated school supplies to the community, and soccer balls and 10 computers to local schools.

Most of the donated items were provided by members of the Kansas Air National Guard's 190th Air Refueling Wing currently deployed here.

"The smiles on the kids' faces and the look in their eyes say more than words could ever express, just because you gave them a notebook and a pencil," said Senior Master Sgt. Tom Hren, the 190th ARW first sergeant. "When you see kids playing soccer with a rolled up ball of tape and you give them a real soccer ball, it really makes you feel good inside."

"It was such a great feeling to see the children's eyes light up when the soccer balls were unloaded," said Chief Master Sgt. Dena Swisher of the 190th ARW. "I am thrilled to have been a part of this heartwarming experience."

Part of the school supplies included 3,000 pounds' worth of Spanish and English textbooks through a program called World Care. The 474th Operations Group staff organized the donation while the Sacramento Coast Guard from California transported the materials here from Tucson on the way to their deployment to Manta.

Besides the soccer balls, another donation that provided fun for local children was when the Kansas ANG purchased and donated a brand new pitching machine and 500 baseballs to the Manta Baseball Academy.

"If children get involved in sports, it gives them something to do so they're not in the streets. Sports teaches them teamwork and rules, which helps develop them into better people," Sergeant Hren said.

Finally the most touching donation of all was when Manta volunteers who teach English to children in the local community learned one of the students -- a young, handicapped girl -- had to return a wheelchair she was renting. This meant that her mother would have to carry her on her back wherever she went.

"When the school director told us the story, we all looked at each other and were thinking the same thing ... 'We need to do something to help,'" Sergeant Hren said. "Within two hours we had done research on the Internet, picked up a wheelchair, collected enough money and told our teammates back in Kansas which one to purchase so they could send it here. We gave a wheelchair to a little girl who was carried to and from school on her mother's back ... what more can I say?"