DILI, Timor-Leste (NNS) -- As part of Pacific Partnership (PP14) 2014, service members from Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. visited children at the Irmas Alma School for the Disabled, June 20.
In its ninth iteration, Pacific Partnership is the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
When the group of service members arrived, screams and cheers filled the air as they gathered coloring books and crayons. Soldiers, Airmen and Sailors spanning three different countries came together to color and play with the children.
"I had a cheery time playing with the children today," said Australian Flight Officer Anthony Whitney. "We were able to color with them in coloring books and play sport with them outside, which was a blast."
For many, the opportunity to overcome cultural differences was a rewarding experience.
"It was cool interacting with the kids," said Information Systems Technician 3rd Class Megan Sterling, a Destin, Texas, native assigned to Naval Construction Group 1. "Even though there is a language barrier, it didn't seem to matter because there are no barriers to show love and compassion."
By the time the event was concluded, it was obvious the work was not over.
Children at the school have been diagnosed with physical and mental disabilities, speech impediments and cerebral palsy. Caretakers of the school provide therapy sessions multiple times a week more than 70 children with the goal of enabling them to be able to function within the local community, even with something as simple as going to public school.
"The Alma School is dedicated to helping handicapped children improve their mental and physical capacity," said Elisabeth Alma, headmaster. "My favorite part, after being here 10 years, has been seeing the amount of children our organization has helped and seeing my children be successful, productive members of society across Timor-Leste."
This year, Pacific Partnership features simultaneous seaborne and airborne phases with the airborne phase focused on the nations of Indonesia and Timor-Leste. Medical and engineering personnel will conduct numerous medical, dental and veterinary engagements, along with engineering civil action projects and community relations events. The seaborne phase is a Japanese-led mission and is scheduled to visit Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines.
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