After starting his 1,000-plus mile walk from Texas to Minnesota July 4, Sgt. Gunnar Swanson made a stop at the YMCA in El Dorado Tuesday afternoon.

After starting his 1,000-plus mile walk from Texas to Minnesota July 4, Sgt. Gunnar Swanson made a stop at the YMCA in El Dorado Tuesday afternoon.

Swanson stopped to talk with a group of children about the cause for which he is walking, A Soldier’s March for Peace, which benefits War Kids Relief.

Swanson, along with Dina Fesler who works with War Kids Relief, have been stopping to talk with youth all along the route.

“We tell them who we are and what our program is about,” Fesler said. “We talk about the issues the kids have over there (in Iraq). We want them to take an active part in it.”
To start the presentation, Fesler introduced the program and Swanson to the group.

“What our charity does is we help kids just like you, but these kids all live in a country where a war is going on,” she explained to the group. “There are wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

She said they were there to tell the kids some of the ways they are trying to help the children in Iraq.

“One thing you guys can do that would really help those kids is to be their friend,” she said. “What we want you guys to do is be their friend and write them a letter. That’s the best way to start a friendship.”

She went on to introduce Swanson.

“He is doing a really great thing,” Fesler said.
Swanson served in the Army about eight years.

“We were heroes in Iraq,” he said of the military.

He explained how people, and especially kids, would come up to them in the streets and wave to them.

They would give the kids some of their MREs, bottles of water and treats from their care packages they received.

“After we had been there a while, one thing the kids started to notice is we soldiers needed a way to keep our water cool,” Swanson said.

“One way we would cool water is put it in our old stinkin’ socks and tie it on the mirror,” he explained.

They would pour water over the sock, then as they drove it would cool the bottle of water.
“The kids started lining up on the side of the street with ice blocks and we would buy the ice,” he said.
They also would sell the soldiers such things as pop.

“It was really fun for us troops to hang out with the kids,” he continued.

“Then we found out the kids were being used by the bad guys and had to stop. I’ve always wanted to help those kids.”

One way the organization is working to help the kids is they are raising money to build something like a youth center for them.

“We need to raise funds to do that,” he said. “We also have a really cool Web site so you can be a part of it.”

One other way the El Dorado youth could help was to write letters to the Iraqi children, which they did while Swanson was there.

“They are kids just like you, but in a whole lot of ways their lives are a lot different,” he said.
The kids were split into two groups to read letters the Iraqi children wrote, then write a letter or draw a picture to send back.

Fesler read parts of letters to the group of younger children, while Swanson passed around the letters for the older kids to read.

The letters included the kids’ likes, such as one letter that stated the youth would like “to be successful in helping others, peace, faithfulness, love and freedom, finishing my study perfectly and equality.” Others said they hoped for peace in Iraq.

Another letter stated, “I hope to become a police officer in the future to save my country from terror and do good deeds.”

They also talked about their fears. One letter stated a fear was “when I go to school every day, I am afraid of explosions and similar activities.”

The kids also told how many family members and friends they had, as well as their favorite subjects and hobbies.

After reading the letters, Swanson talked to the group about some of the similarities they saw between themselves and the kids from Iraq. Some of the similarities included liking music and sports.

There also were differences, such as having to deal with war, being scared and worrying about being kidnapped.

“The main thing is these guys live a little bit harder life than we do,” Swanson said.

The El Dorado youth then wrote their own letters back to the children in Iraq, which would later be translated and sent to Iraq.

“We just really want to emphasize their role as an ambassador,” Fesler said.

Once the letters were finished, they stopped for a group photo before Swanson and Fesler had to continue on their journey.

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