Officer for orphans

Thursday, July 29, 2004

In February, Jackson police officer Darrell Sievers left his DARE classes and the children in the Jackson School District where he is a community resource officer and became full-time Master Sgt. Darrell Sievers with the 164th Aerial Port Squadron. The National Guard unit based in Memphis, Tenn., is assigned to the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing at Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan.

Through his involvement with the Manas Air Base Outreach Society, Sievers became acquainted with a group of youngsters living in an orphanage in Kyrgyzstan. The outreach society is a private organization formed by Americans stationed in the region who work to improve the lives of the local people.

In an interview conducted by e-mail, Sievers said he wants Southeast Missouri to assist in the outreach society's work. He's trying to help put a new roof on the orphanage and hopes people back home will "open their hearts and donate," he said.

Sievers is the team leader of one of the outreach society's projects, the Krasnorechenskaya Orphanage, known as the more easily pronounced K-Orphanage. The K-Orphanage is government funded, but Sievers said there have been months when the staff and the orphanage were not paid.

"I toured the school and was amazed to see the ceiling literally sliding down the walls of the building," Sievers said. "I was told that the cost to totally replace the roof would be approximately $10,000. I was amazed, since this building is actually somewhat larger than the Jackson Police Department and Jackson Fire Department complex."

When it snows or rains, which happens frequently, there are places in the building where the children are not allowed to go because parts of the ceiling may cave in. When it rains, the water pours straight through the ceiling, and the children are forced to spend the day cleaning up the flooded building.

"In the winter," Sievers said, "the children sleep three and four to a mattress in attempts to stay warm because the roof holds no heat."

In addition, the orphanage needs cleaning supplies and pens, paper, markers, crayons, coloring books, scissors, glue, thread, needles and yarn because the staff can't afford to buy them.

These are not his DARE students in Jackson, but the orphans have touched his heart.

"These children are children no matter what country they were born in," Sievers said.

Nearly 170 orphans between the ages of 6 and 17, many of them with mental and physical handicaps, live at K-Orphanage. When they reach 17, they are released to live on their own. The orphanage emphasizes training in skills the children can use to support themselves once they're out: arts and crafts, carpentry, sewing and nursing assistant skills.

The Kyrgyzstan government does not allow foreign adoptions.

Kyrgyzstan was annexed by Russia in 1864 and achieved independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Slightly smaller than South Dakota, it lies on China's western border and is surrounded by Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Sievers' unit is stationed near the capital city of Bishkek, which he describes as crowded and growing rapidly with numerous shops, restaurants and vendors on the streets. The base is a 45-minute ride away from Bishkek through the countryside.

"It seems odd to us to see cattle, horses and sheep grazing in the medians and alongside the road," he said. "There have been a couple of times when a cow has gotten away from its owner and run out in the roadway, causing us to come to a white-knuckled stop fast."

But Sievers has perspective. He can recall dealing with cattle from his Jackson patrol car on highways 25 and 61.

Sievers said many people in Kyrgyzstan make their living off the land, but there is a slow industrial growth.

"The people here survive by whatever means they can," he said. "Most people here work constantly at several jobs."

Many children are born with cleft plates and other birth defects, he said. The government Web site lists water pollution and water-borne diseases as the country's major environmental problem.

The Kyrgyz diet is different from the American diet, Sievers said.

"Horse, dog and lamb are common dishes here," he said. "I have eaten in several restaurants while on humanitarian trips. The food is good, but you have to pick and choose off the menu to avoid anything that may be totally off the wall."

The Kyrgyzstan government is a strong supporter of the American forces, and the people respect Americans, he said. The wing of his unit has a four-fold mission:

Receiving cargo and passengers and helping them to get wherever they need to go in Afghanistan

Maintaining C-130 Hercules transport aircraft at the base

Maintaining KC-135 Stratotankers that fly refueling missions for aircraft over Afghanistan

Providing medical evacuations by air.

Sievers expects to leave Kyrgyzstan in mid-September. His unit will return to Charleston, S.C., to wait for further instructions.

"When I get home, I want the following in this order," he said. "I want to hug and hold my wife and children for a week straight. Eat a HUGE steak at a local steakhouse, good American beef, medium rare with all the sides, and drink until I'm miserable. And get back to my duty at the Jackson Police Department and the Jackson schools."

To help Sievers' effort with the K-Orphanage, items may be sent to 376 AEW/EHC, APO, AE 09353. Checks or money orders may be made out to Manas AB Outreach Society. For more information, go to www.mabos.org.

lredeffer@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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