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U.S. personnel brighten childrens day

By Sgt. Kerensa Hardy
First published in
SFOR Informer#106, February 7, 2001

Sarajevo - It was as if someone had opened a floodgate. They were everywhere, children of all ages, shapes and sizes.
Sounds of laughter filled the room as about 50 children, ages 18 months to 10 years old, ran in the room to play with their friends - some new, some old.
Fifteen soldiers, sailors and civilians from the United States visited the Bjelave Children's Home Sunday as part of an outreach program. A group visits the children for a couple of hours every other Sunday. The children anticipate these special days and the special treats of sweets or books that each visit brings.
"The children look forward to the Sundays when the soldiers come to visit, they look for familiar faces of their older playmates," said Army 1st Lt. Carrie Lomax, who recently took over as officer in charge of the program. "Most of them just like to be … paid attention to."
Although most of the US personnel don't speak the local language, clearly the children made their desires known using body language. Some of the children wanted to play. Some wanted to be read to, even though they can't understand English. Still, some of the children were content just to be held in someone's arms.
"I was overwhelmed at first," Lomax said. She said she could hear the shouts of excitement as the children made their way to the area where their playmates were waiting.
Almost all the visitors who visit the home said their first experience kind of caught them off guard.
"The first time I came, I was pretty shocked at the situation," said Navy Cdr. Bill Gieckel. He has been at Camp Butmir for about six weeks and has visited the orphanage several times. "This is my church, my Sunday service," he said. "It gives me a good feeling."
Air Force Staff Sgt. Stephanie Ristau also said she was a bit overcome on her first visit to the orphanage. She said she remembered one little girl in particular who wanted to be picked up.
"You could tell all she wanted was to be loved," Ristau said. "It felt awesome to be able to give that."
The visitation program began eight months ago with the Camp Butmir chaplain, Lomax said. The program has since been passed to the U.S. National Intelligence Center. She and Army Sgt. Dale Matteson, noncommissioned officer in charge, are over the program.
Bjelave Children's Home is supported through monetary and other donations, Lomax explained.
The role that the USNIC and US volunteers play is two-fold. "The USNIC is able to provide the home with diapers, formula, clothing and other necessities," she added. "The visitations allow the children personal time to play with US personnel."
The number of children in the home fluctuates, but there are a little more than 100 living there now.
Lomax said this program is outstanding because of all the assistance it draws. "Donations come through the USNIC from all over the world from people eager to help the cause," she said. "The Bjelave home benefits from our donations, our role is definitely needed."

Related link:
Nations of SFOR: US
Humanitarian Aid