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Monday, May 14, 2007

CJTF-HOA members donate time, supplies and compassion to orphanage

14 May 2007
Story by U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Chris Grinage
CJTF-HOA
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DJIBOUTI CITY, Djibouti – Nestled in a remote and unassuming part of the city, a local Djibouti City orphanage awaits the arrival of members from Camp Lemonier. The children who live at the orphanage are in need of supplies, donations, and most important of all…love and affection.

Prior to the group’s departure from the base chapel, the seven volunteers made up of U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, and U.S. Marines, made last-minute preparations for their trip to the orphanage by loading up supplies. The supplies were donated by both camp members and from a Marine master sergeant’s hometown friends who organized a donation drive to provide the children with gifts of goodwill and compassion.

U.S. Marine Corps Master Sgt. Barry “Bart” Bartasavich is one of many Camp Lemonier inhabitants who ask family and friends at home to help generate donations for the local orphanages.

“My friend Anne Hanner from back home in Dubois, Pennsylvania helped me organize the donations for toys, bottles, baby items and cash. The orphanage cannot accept cash, so I had to visit a local store and purchase supplies with the money they gave me,” said Bartasavich.

As the bus departed Camp Lemonier, the seven volunteers carried on different conversations amongst themselves. In time, the multiple conversations became about answering the obvious one of “what can I expect?” for those who had never visited the orphanage.

Some in the group were “veterans” and explained to the “rookies” what to expect. Bartasavich, being the senior veteran of the group, explained to the others the order of operations.

“We only have 90 minutes, so the priority is to give the babies their bottles first and then move on to feed the toddlers,” he said.

Once the group arrived at the orphanage their tenor changed from curiosity to excitement. As the bus rolled through the gates, the group was greeted by the older children who were all engaged in football (soccer), the national pastime. There wasn’t a face without a smile or a quizzical look, as if to say, “are you coming here to help the little ones?”

Finally, after positioning the bus and coming to a stop, all the donated gifts were immediately presented to the head nurse. For the volunteers, they were all ready and anxious to pick up and feed the now wide-awake babies and newborns.

In a matter of minutes the babies were being cared for and fed with prearranged bottles of formula. Some of the babies couldn’t get the bottles fast enough and barely left time for the periodic burping that helps babies avoid discomfort from taking in a bottle too fast.

Some volunteers were privileged enough to feed a child who kept down the food recently consumed, while others experienced the opposite reaction. All was taken in stride and the babies were fed in record time. As Bartasavich was feeding a baby, his favorite girl Zam Zam saw him and wasted no time scurrying over to him for a kiss and to say “nabad,” meaning hello.

“Zam Zam is my girl,” Bartasavich proudly proclaimed. “She is one of the many reasons I come here as often as possible each week. Any time I put her down and don’t pay any attention to her she lets me know she is not happy in her own special way.”

Witnessing the bond between Bartasavich and Zam Zam would turn the coldest heart into a warm one.

Some of the volunteers managed to feed two babies each before moving on to the toddlers. Many of the toddlers darted about on the floor via their four-wheeled “go-carts” with a speed and ease that would make most race car drivers envious.

The toddlers were extremely adept at using these “go-carts” as an effective attention getter by ramming them into the volunteers’ legs, as if saying “tag, you are mine.” The tactic worked well as the volunteers got the subtle hint and wisely opted to feed their respective ‘Mario Andretti.’

Feeding the toddlers was a study in abstract art. Some children were kept very clean and managed to get most of the food in them, others seemed to enjoy the fact that the food was on them and made them like a portable grocery store from which to choose the food of their fancy at a later time.

While being fed, the toddlers seemed to know the routine better than the veterans and rookies and spared no feelings, or eardrums, by letting the volunteers know when they had enough of the main course and wanted to waste no more time in delaying dessert.

Dessert smelled wonderful to the children. It was a mixture of bananas and milk that they couldn’t get in them fast enough. Each volunteer enjoyed their time and was able to experience the unbridled joy in keeping up with the “supply and demand curves” of a child who knows what they want and how to get it.

As with all good things, time marched on and it was time for the volunteers to depart for the camp, but not before cleaning up the toddlers and placing them back into their go-carts.

With bellies and hearts full of food and attention, the babies drifted off to sleep and toddlers chased balls and each other, happier for the brief time they spent with the volunteers.

As the group departed the orphanage, the older children were still engaged in a never-ending game of football. However, all paused from their game to wave and take chase after the bus with smiles only a child can truly communicate a “thank you.” The bus ride back to the camp was relaxed, with a calmness that comes from having experienced one of nature’s purest gifts…the unquestioning love that only a child can give.

The mission of CJTF-HOA is to prevent conflict, promote regional stability and protect coalition interests in order to prevail against extremism. The CJTF-HOA organization began operations at Camp Lemonier, Djibouti May 13, 2003. It works with partner nations on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, consequence management, civic action programs to include medical and veterinary care, school and medical clinic construction and water development projects.

Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Master Sgt. Barry Bartasavich spends a moment with Zam Zam, one of children at a Djibouti City orphanage. (Photo by U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Randi Marble).

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