U.S. Soldiers and Airman volunteered with South African Medical Health Services members to paint a local school in celebration of Nelson Mandela's birthday during the Humanitarian and Civic Assistance (HCA) portion of Shared Accord 13, July 26.
Shared Accord (SA) is a biennial training exercise involving in-depth joint cohesion between U.S. and South African military forces during multiple training scenarios designed to promote regional relationships, increase capacity and further cross-training and interoperability.
Students from the Masincedane Training Centre welcomed the U.S. and South African military members by singing to them and dancing together. Smiles covered the children's faces throughout the day as they played games with military members, including the American classic Duck, Duck, Goose.
Nelson Mandela International Day (Mandela Day), celebrated annually on his birthday, July 18, is also a day marked to celebrate his legacy. Participants traditionally volunteer to serve others for 67 minutes, representing the 67 years that Mandela fought social injustice.
In honor of Mandela Day, military members completed a joint community engagement project for a school that has limited funding, said Nomachina Nophonto, school principal. The project included basic dental screenings for each child, painting the outside of the school and planting vegetables in their garden.
"I'm happy because they can help us," said Konjwa Nombulelo, a teacher at the school. "The children are very happy they are here."
Dental workers from the U.S. Air Force and South African Medical Health Services performed very basic dental screenings for each of the children at the school to include giving each child a dental hygiene care kit.
"It makes my heart swell," said U.S. Air Force Capt. Kelley Hursh, 31st Dental Squadron. "I love seeing the children and the smiles on their faces."
Other military volunteers painted the outside of the school, including U.S. Army Cadet Capt. Salice Kelley, dental assistant with 61st Multimedical Battalion of D.C.
"It's actually a great experience," Kelley said. "We're sharing different cultures and we're building friendships."
This volunteer day was only the beginning to the HCA portion planned for SA 13.
U.S. and South African militaries will provide free healthcare services to the local community members this week in Bulembo.
The HCA event will allow many rural South Africans the opportunity to receive dental, medical, HIV and optometric screenings from the joint efforts of these two militaries, said U.S. Army Maj. Chuck Slagle, Executive Officer for 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division of Fort Riley, Kan.
The HCA workers will also provide some pharmaceutical assistance, family planning information, and counseling assistance.
U.S. Department of State funds were transferred from the U.S. to South Africa so medical supplies and pharmaceuticals could be purchased locally, said Slagle.
"It's good for the economy here because its [supplies and medicines] are purchased at local pharmacies," said Slagle.
U.S. and South African forces are joining together not only to build stronger relationships between the forces, but also to assist South African citizens in need.
"It's exciting to learn from each other and to have good cooperation between the two countries," said South African Medical Health Services Capt. Stehann Van Den Berg, Area Medical Health Unit of Gauteng Province. "We're working together to improve lives in this area.