PRISTINA, Kosovo - Over 50 paratroopers with 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, deployed to Camp Maréchal de Lattre de Tassigny, Kosovo, spent Christmas Eve playing, singing, and giving gifts to over 70 children from SOS Kinderdof's, an orphanage in Pristina, Family Strengthening Program.Members of the Rotary Club Pristina National planned this event with Kosovo Forces Soldiers to build community relations with local organizations in Kosovo."This is the first time we had an event like this with SOS Kinderdorf," said Erik Mackinlay, a member of the Rotary Club Pristina International. "We are looking forward to working with this organization again. It was a very successful event, and the Soldiers enjoyed being here."The SOS Kinderdorf orphanage opened in 2001, a few years after the Kosovo War. There was an overwhelming amount of children abandoned post-war according to Vjollca Shahini, a project coordinator for peer advocacy and educational support for marginalized children. Kinderdorf has 77 orphans ranging from a few weeks old to 20 years old who live on the Pristina campus. There are families Kinderdorf supports who do not live on the campus so they can integrate with the local community, Shahini added.Santa arrived with gifts for all of the children. Although the children believed Santa brought the mountain of gifts, in reality Chaplain Captain Paul Lynn, a Protestant chaplain with the 1-40th Cavalry along with some other paratroopers, delivered all of the wrapped presents."We brought over 200 gifts," said Lynn. "Some of the gifts came from family and friends back in the states, and other gifts came from Soldiers' care packages."Lynn pulled out his phone to watch a video of the children singing their national anthem after receiving presents, and five young girls gathered around him with smiles. One of the girls involved in the after school program said she loves to sing and enjoyed singing with the Soldiers.
"This is a unique deployment," said Lynn. "We are on a peacetime mission, and we can focus on the human element of connecting and embracing relationships of peacekeeping for the children of Kosovo's future."Remzije Krasniqi, the kindergarten director and a national educational adviser with SOS Kinderdorf, said she has worked with the company for 12 years and she is thankful for the Soldiers' involvement."The children love when the Soldiers come," Krasniqi added. "They know about Soldiers from watching television, and they understand that the Soldiers help us. We would like to plan more events with them."Paratroopers were running around with boys and girls kicking a soccer ball and throwing a football. Laughter filled the air and everyone was all smiles."We enjoyed this event," said Lynn. "When we are away from our families, connecting with children help us feel like we are connecting with our own children."