CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo - Students and teachers from a Kosovo language center received a visit from U.S. Army Soldiers deployed in support of NATO's Kosovo Force peace support mission, as part of a community outreach project that also included a trip to a nearby bear sanctuary, Nov. 23, in Pristina, Kosovo.
The Soldiers from KFOR's Multinational Battle Group-East visited the A&A Learning Center in Pristina, where they conducted team-building exercises and helps the students practice their English-speaking skills.
When the Soldiers arrived at the school, Maj. Jamie Bowen, the senior operations officer for the 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team and MNBG-E headquarters, presented the children with a box of school supplies and artwork donated by students from Saint Francis de Sales Catholic School, in Beckley, West Virginia.
"My wife, who is a pre-school teacher at St. Francis, mentioned the idea to me about donating school supplies to students in Kosovo," Bowen said.
Vegim Vinca, the A&A Language Center director, saw an opportunity to coordinate with U.S. Soldiers and Rotary Club International, and offered an invitation for them to volunteer and interact with A&A students.
"By coordinating with the Rotary Club and U.S. Soldiers, the students have had a chance to visit Camp Bondsteel twice," Vinca said. "Now the Soldiers are coming to A&A for the first time."
"I thought having [the students] interact with Soldiers would give them a better understanding and experience to see who they really are and would also provide an opportunity to practice their English with them," he said.
The A&A Learning Center offers language training to students from public schools in Pristina and adults of all ages. It provides an environment where students can get individualized teaching from the instructors in small groups.
"I like the program because all the students can learn individually," said Edin, a 10-year-old boy who takes classes at the learning center.
"The teachers here are good instructors," said Melissa, another 10-year-old student in the program. "We like them a lot."
During the visit, the KFOR Soldiers taught team-building activities such as basketball and duck-duck-goose, as well as trust games to help them think creatively and build interaction with one another. Blindfolded, the students learned to trust that their classmates would guide them in the right direction and not allow harm to come their way.
After the games were played, the Soldiers and students spent part of the day at Pristina's Bear Sanctuary, where the children had a chance to see bears that once were forced to live in poor conditions and now live in a peaceful and serene environment.
"It's very rewarding to interact with the youth and be able to show them team-building skills, which also helps them see positive ways to build relationships," said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Richard Williams, a member of the 30th ABCT and MNBG-E headquarters who has organized several of his unit's events with the students.
"Being here today is eye-opening," said Spc. Marcella Hoye, another MNBG-E headquarters Soldier. "To see the appreciation for our presence here from Kosovo's younger generation is definitely a fulfilling experience."
"Having an outreach opportunity come together like this has a valuable impact on the students and community, and everyone really seems to appreciate the learning and exposure this coordinated effort has produced," Vinca said. "I hope to see more in the future."