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Airmen teach children English, show compassion

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Orville F. Desjarlais Jr.
  • Air Force Print News
Senior Airman Darious Harper peered out the window of a contracted government van as it squeezed its way through the narrow, congested streets of Manta.

Here on a 120-day air and space expeditionary force deployment from Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., the information manager was about to learn more about the people of Ecuador, and a few children were about to learn a second language.

The base is in its infant stages. When Howard Air Base in Panama closed in 1999, the Department of State lost a large chunk of its ability to perform counterdrug operations. The United States and Ecuador completed negotiations in 1998, and by March 2000 Manta was operating E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control systems in support of counterdrug operations.

With only 13 permanent-party people assigned here, the Air Force uses the AEF cycle to send people like Airman Darius to the base, located about a five-minute walk away from the Pacific Ocean, on the western coast of South America.

While an AWACS plane flew high overhead looking for drug smugglers and an Air Force firefighting contractor helped local officials battle a block-long city fire, Airman Harper and a half dozen other volunteers here arrived at the Alberta Community Center.

Like Air Force bases worldwide, Airmen here like to win the hearts and minds of local people through volunteer efforts -- fund drives, donations, charity work, refurbishing crews. The cause here is teaching English to children.

“We help teach them to read and write,” said Tech. Sgt. Teresa Davis, a permanent party Airman who has visited the center many times.

“As a byproduct, we also learn a little Spanish,” said the quality assurance evaluator for supply and contracting.

Once class got under way, the ceiling fan began clanking against the very ceiling it was attached to. It fluttered about like a damaged helicopter blade. Children and volunteers alike eyed it suspiciously until the first sergeant, Senior Master Sgt. Michael Anderson, turned it off. Airmen took note. More then likely, when they return next time, they will have solved the problem.

With no air conditioning, the fan is the only way to stir the 100-degree heat that sometimes builds up in the second-story classroom. If the ancient pedal-powered sewing machine that sat in the corner of the room is any indication of the situation here, it’s doubtful the center will receive any sort of air conditioning in the near future.

By the end of the visit, Airman Harper and Sergeant Anderson were laughing with their 6-year-old student, Cesar. The boy’s aunt brought him to the class, and while there, she too learned a little English.

“I love this place,” Airman Harper said. “These people are awesome.”

Although it might be the only time Airman Harper gets the opportunity to visit the center, there will be other volunteers groups, just as their will be more AWACS missions and chances for American firefighters to combat fire elbow to elbow with their Ecuadorian counterparts.