Airmen donate soccer balls to African school

Senior Airman Mike Meares
86th Air Expeditionary Group

***image1***KIGALI, Rwanda – Up and down a dusty grass and dirt soccer field, children chased a well-worn semblance of a ball. The ball more closely resembled a plastic bag wrapped in twine. The players stopped only to wave hello to the U.S. Airmen entering the airfield of Kigali International Airport.

The students are from Nonko Primary School of Kigali-Kanombe, Rwanda, and thanks to the Airmen, they now own 20 new soccer balls, nets for their goal posts, toys and school supplies.

The Airmen, from the 86th Air Expeditionary Group at Ramstein, first got the idea to buy a soccer ball after days of watching school children playing soccer outside the entrance to their compound.

“Every day we entered the airfield, we saw them across the street playing soccer with what might be a ball, and in some cases, no shoes,” said Airman 1st Class Tradell Black, an air transportation specialist. “I saw an opportunity to help, so I started asking around, seeing if there was anything we could do for them.”

While deployed as part of a humanitarian airlift mission in Rwanda, the Ramstein Airmen are supporting the Darfur region of the Sudan by airlifting Rwandan Defense Forces troops and supplies for peacekeeping operations.
But, the Airmen took it a step further and started their own humanitarian mission on the playing fields of the small African country.

“As a whole, the military community is very giving,” said Capt. Steve Stayberg, the group’s mission control team commander. “Military personnel are doing things like this all over the world – building schools, donating pieces of their paychecks and helping out where they can.”

Staff sgts. Shawn Doll, Rich Crim and Terrick Turner, deployed from the 786th Security Forces Squadron at Sembach kicked things off when they presented a new soccer ball July 21 to Maurice Mulis Wimanzi, the school’s headmaster. He said the new soccer ball doubled their inventory.

With more than 850 students at the school – comprised of mostly orphaned children ages 7 to 13 – the 16 teachers are limited to what they can do for their pupils.

“We are way more fortunate than any of these children have ever known during their lives,” Sergeant Doll said. “I would rather them have half the opportunity I had growing up by providing them with a few supplies than to not have any opportunity at all.”

And it is these types of thoughts and actions that the humanitarian mission is all about.

“We are quiet professionals,” Captain Stayberg said. “We don’t do things like this to toot our own horn, but because it’s the right thing to do.”
Rwanda is a landlocked developing country in central Africa, recovering from a 1994 civil war and genocide in which more than 800,000 people were killed. Although damaged, the city’s structure is recovering. Most of the children at the school were born during the civil war. They have grown up in a war-torn country.

“Many of the children are orphans and survivors of genocide,” Mr. Wimanzi said. “Some of them are shy socially because they have no parents.”
A tattered Rwandan flag sat in the middle of a dirt courtyard to the school where the children go to learn. They sit in wooden desks that line the classroom and there are bars on the holes in the wall where glass windows should be. The Airmen visited the school and delivered more than $1,000 worth of supplies and treats to a throng of children that clung to them.
“Maybe the balls (will) develop social relations,” the headmaster said. “This may help them forget (their) problems and they can come to school every day and just play.”

The 20 balls increases the school’s inventory by 1,000 percent, and raises the potential for a great time on the soccer field immeasurably.
The headmaster hopes the supplies donated will encourage the children to go to school more often, putting the scars of the horrific 1994 civil war further behind them.