August 24 , 2005
By Maj. Neal Edmonds
DUSHANBE, TAJIKISTAN - The Virginia National Guard's State Partnership Program (SPP) with the Republic of Tajikistan touched the lives of some children this past Aug. 4 when Virginia Army National Guard Soldiers joined with members of the United States State Department and Counterpart International in the rededication of the Republic House for Mentally Handicapped Children in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
The Virginia National Guard SPP, which is sponsored by National Guard Bureau and the Department of Defense, is designed to facilitate cooperation between Virginia and Tajikistan across several levels of society. Two of those areas of cooperation are military-to-civilian exchanges and civilian-to-civilian organization cooperation. Participating in the rededication of the home allowed cooperation in both of these areas to occur.
After returning from an earlier SPP trip to Tajikistan Staff Sgt. Ellen Billmyer, a Virginia Army National Guard nurse, encouraged members of Warfield Baptist Church in Warfield, Va. where she attends church, to collect personal hygiene products for children in Tajikistan. The result of that drive was a healthy supply of children's toothbrushes and toothpaste. Motivated by Billmyer's efforts, Maj. Elena Scarbrough, also a nurse assigned to Joint Force Headquarters - Virginia, collected a donation of hand sanitizer from the Medical Command of the Virginia Army National Guard.
Billmyer and Scarbrough traveled to Tajikistan in early August to visit with various health care organizations in the Dushanbe area. During that visit a perfect opportunity presented itself to share the gifts with some Tajik children. Through coordination between the SPP and Counterpart International, a non-governmental organization, arrangements were made to present the items to the children during the rededication of the Republic House for Mentally Handicapped Children.
The rededication ceremony celebrating the completion of the facility's extensive renovation was held on Aug. 4. Scarbrough and Billmyer joined Rachel Roseberry of Counterpart International and Peter Argo, Director of US Agency for International Development, for the rededication activities. Roseberry, with a grant from Argo's US AID office, worked with the staff of the children's home to complete work on the facility which resulted in the installation of a hot water system, upgraded heating system, new windows, a commercial grade washing machine, and a colorful new paint scheme in the home's playroom to provide a comfortable atmosphere for the children.
Following the ceremony Scarbrough and Billmyer had the opportunity to not only present the gifts from the members of Warfield Baptist Church and the Virginia Army National Guard's Medical Command, but also conduct a personal hygiene class for the children. Billmyer and Scarbrough taught the children how to properly brush their teeth and wash their hands. The children enjoyed the demonstration so much that a few of them asked for a second toothbrush! Although only at the home for a short time, a real connection was made between the children and the Soldiers of the Virginia National Guard. When it was time for Billmyer and Scarbrough to depart there were many "Spaciba"s and "Tashakkur"s ("thank you" in Russian and Tajik) shared among the children, staff, and Soldiers of the Virginia National Guard.
The State Partnership Program has already proven beneficial in developing an understanding between Soldiers and Airmen of the Virginia National Guard and Tajiks who have participated in its activities. The SPP will continue to work to strengthen the ties between the people of Tajikistan and Virginia. It will rely on the compassion Virginians and Virginia's Citizen-Soldiers and the strength of the Tajiks to allow this most important program to reach its full potential.
MAJ Neal Edmonds is the State Partnership Program Coordinator for the Virginia National Guard. For more information on the National Guard State Partnership Program go to http://www.ngb-ia.org/public/spd.cfm/spi/overview/