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Friendship means the world to adopted babushkas

Olga hugs Capt. Arnold Sauve after a lunch outing in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on Thursday, May 4, 2006. Airmen from nearby Manas Air Base sponsor 20 elderly women who receive aid from Babushka Adoption. The local non-governmental organization assists elderly people left vulnerable as this post-Soviet nation works to stabilize its economy. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Lara Gale)

Olga hugs Capt. Arnold Sauve after a lunch outing in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on Thursday, May 4, 2006. Airmen from nearby Manas Air Base sponsor 20 elderly women who receive aid from Babushka Adoption. The local non-governmental organization assists elderly people left vulnerable as this post-Soviet nation works to stabilize its economy. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Lara Gale)

A babushka shares treats with Staff Sgt. Edwin Mirador and other Airmen from nearby Manas Air Base after lunch in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on Thursday, May 4, 2006. The babushkas enjoy sharing treats they make themselves. Airmen from nearby Manas Air Base sponsor 20 elderly women who receive aid from Babushka Adoption. The local non-governmental organization assists elderly people left vulnerable as this post-Soviet nation works to stabilize its economy. Sergeant Mirador is deployed from Barksdale Air Force Base, La. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Lara Gale)

A babushka shares treats with Staff Sgt. Edwin Mirador and other Airmen from nearby Manas Air Base after lunch in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on Thursday, May 4, 2006. The babushkas enjoy sharing treats they make themselves. Airmen from nearby Manas Air Base sponsor 20 elderly women who receive aid from Babushka Adoption. The local non-governmental organization assists elderly people left vulnerable as this post-Soviet nation works to stabilize its economy. Sergeant Mirador is deployed from Barksdale Air Force Base, La. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Lara Gale)

Olga sings a lullaby to Tech. Sgt. Victoria Querido during a lunch outing in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on Thursday, May 4, 2006. Sergeant Querido and Airmen from nearby Manas Air Base sponsor 20 elderly women who receive aid from Babushka Adoption. The local non-governmental organization assists elderly people left vulnerable as this post-Soviet nation works to stabilize its economy. Sergeant Querido is deployed from Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Lara Gale)

Olga sings a lullaby to Tech. Sgt. Victoria Querido during a lunch outing in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on Thursday, May 4, 2006. Sergeant Querido and Airmen from nearby Manas Air Base sponsor 20 elderly women who receive aid from Babushka Adoption. The local non-governmental organization assists elderly people left vulnerable as this post-Soviet nation works to stabilize its economy. Sergeant Querido is deployed from Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Lara Gale)

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan (AFPN) -- Olga finished school 70 years ago. After graduating, she became a teacher of Russian, German and finally mathematics for more than 30 years. She has so much to share about that time, but today, she has fewer and fewer people to hear her stories. Brothers and sisters, husbands and children have passed or moved too far away to visit. 

That’s why lunch with the American Airmen is such a treat, said Tech. Sgt. Victoria Querido. 

On May 4, Sergeant Querido led her final luncheon trip of the rotation, with a dozen Airmen from the medical group and chaplain’s office at Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan. The trip included a stop at the store, as always, where the Airmen pitched in to buy three large bags of groceries, and a stop at the offices of Babushka Adoption. 

Babushka Adoption sponsors more than 700 babushkas and dedushkas -- grandmothers and grandfathers -- in Kyrgyzstan. It’s not uncommon to see elderly people asking for handouts on the streets in this post-Soviet nation.

Since the collapse of the Soviet economy, elderly people who have worked all their lives and once earned or anticipated earning a government pension have seen their pensions decrease often to less than $20 a month. Babushka Adoption seeks out those elderly people who are most vulnerable -- those with medical problems or without family or friends to help -- and supports them financially and socially. 

Sergeant Querido’s group supports 20 of the agency’s babushkas, bringing them money, clothing, food and comfort items like blankets and linen. 

The material and financial assistance is important, said Sergeant Querido, but what the women seem to appreciate the most is the love and friendship shared during the group’s bi-monthly lunch outings. 

“They really appreciate everything we do for them, you can see it in their eyes,” she said. “The only time they ever get to be with people, and touch and give hugs is when we visit with them. Their husbands are all dead. A couple of have sons or daughters, but most of them don’t see people unless they’re from the foundation.” 

Five at a time attend the lunches, though half are unable to attend at all because of health or other issues that make travel difficult. Sergeant Querido arranges a driver to pick them up and transport them to a Bishkek restaurant. 

Thursday, the meeting place was a Turkish restaurant. As the babushkas arrived, they found the Airmen they recognized and squeezed them tight, exchanging Russian greetings before finding seats at the table. Interpreters intermingled, translating as discussions about the past emerged from the small talk. 

“My grandmothers have passed (away),” said Maj. Valerie Johnson, who will take responsibility for the Babushka focus group when Sergeant Querido leaves in a few weeks. “So I really love being with these women. It makes me feel like I’m with (my grandmothers) again. I can’t give to mine anymore, but I can give to these babushkas.” 

Sergeant Querido said the first meeting was difficult, because they reminded her of her grandmother who has passed, but once she really knew them she loved them like her own, she said.

“I can’t say enough about them, I really love them,” she said. 

Before they parted ways Thursday, every Airman had been kissed and every babushka had been given a colorful gift bag and a set of sheets. Nobody seemed ready to finish their time together. 

“We give, but it’s not much compared to their need, and compared to what they give to us,” Sergeant Querido said. 

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