SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras, –
Bad weather was not an obstacle for the men and women of Joint Task Force-Bravo or six volunteers from the Give a Kid a Backpack Foundation when they delivered nearly 700 backpacks filled with school supplies to children in the mountains of Intibuca and Comayagua, Honduras Feb. 24 and 25.
"You should have heard the screams - they were so excited," said foundation volunteer Denise Giraldo as she recalled the group's arrival in La Pista, Honduras. The group visited with children and school administrators from eight schools.
"I'm very grateful to God and to these people who brought us these backpacks," said Pedro Alexander, an eighth grade student from Escuela Renacimiento in La Pista, where 140 children received backpacks.
The foundation, which began as a family project in 2004 for founder Rosanna Kingston, has collected and delivered more than 14,000 backpacks in 14 countries over the last five years. Mrs. Kingston said she chose backpacks and school supplies because school fees are one of the biggest barriers to education in some countries.
"This is particularly significant in countries where poverty imposes tough choices on families and households about how many children to send to school, which children (to send and for how long)," she said.
The partnership with JTF-B began in 2008 when the foundation, based in southern Florida, first collaborated with the task force's Civil Affairs section to collect and distribute backpacks here in Honduras through the Denton program. The Denton program moves supplies for non-government organizations using empty space available in military vehicles.
"It's important for U.S. Southern Command to partner with NGOs, like Give a Kid a Backpack, because it provides an opportunity to help them reach the people that really are in need," said Maj. Nilda Toro, civil affairs director.
She said it's also a good opportunity for soldiers here, whose everyday missions keep them on base, to get a better understanding of the country and really get to know the people of Honduras.
"I got a chance to see the beautiful community and the people of Jesus de Otoro," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Melida Castaño, NCO in charge of patient administration, JTF-B Medical Element. Sergeant Castaño is deployed here from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.
"What stood out to me the most, was the mayor of the community," Sergeant Castaño said. "He personally greeted each team member and was very appreciative that we were there."
"I'm very happy because there are several children who bring their notebooks in a plastic bag," said Marcia Antunez, teacher and principal at Escuela José Mejia in La Pita. "Sometimes they come without pencils or without notebooks and we, the teachers, have to use our own money to buy those school supplies for them. We really feel blessed because we were chosen by God to receive this donation."
By the end of the two-day distribution trip, rain was falling and the volunteers had to hike to the last location on foot. But 85 smiling faces eagerly awaited their arrival.
"I do this because I love it," Mrs. Giraldo said, "just to see their smiling faces."
For more information on the Give a Kid a Backpack Foundation, visit the Web site at www.giveakidabackpack.org.