AMIGOs use time of uncertainty for generosity and support to international military students

  • Published
  • By Annette Janetzke, DLIELC
  • Defense Language Institute English Language Center

When Dan Vega, Program Manager of our American Members of International Goodwill to Others (AMIGO) called out to sponsors of the AMIGO program to help during the COVID-19 pandemic he was met by overwhelming generosity. Members of the organization were eager to do what they could to support the Defense Language Institute English Language Center (DLIELC) international student population and the DLIELC team by way of supplying face masks.

Master Sgt. Jeanett Vielman, an active duty military member at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, stated her motivation to help with the homemade masks.

“It was my love and appreciation for DLI and its mission,” said Vielman. “I wanted to make something special for the students to show them how special they are and how happy I am to have them here in San Antonio.” 

She’s on duty 24/7 and makes time in the evenings after work and on the weekends to sew masks. 

“I’m so happy I can do something for DLI students,” said Vielman. “Their journey here has been affected due to this virus, but love and hospitality from the Gateway Wing team can have a positive impact.”

AMIGO Sponsor, Daisy Whisenant, also saw the need and started searching out avenues to help.  She found a group of craft ladies who donated one mask to low income schools for every one mask that was purchased.  She decided to purchase $150 worth of masks for the first run since it was for an opportunity to assist our students.  Now all the additional masks she’s provided are donated.  Most are from a doctor’s wife, who likes to sew.

“I miss our dinner party celebrations of the students’ birthdays and graduations immensely during this time of limitations on gatherings,” said Whisenant. “They’re so far from home, and I want them to know we care and to know they have friends in the U.S.  

While delivering masks on one of her two visits to DLIELC, Whisenant met with some students and said how fun it was to visit with DLI students.

"I’m so happy to be of help to these precious guests from all over the world, to let them practice their English and enjoy American friendship,” Whisenant added.  

One student arrived at the operations front desk and began talking to Whisenant. Sergeant Jean Damascene Mutarambirwa from Rwanda, had received a mask.  Another AMIGO Sponsor, Alice Vida, who heard the call and stepped up to provide masks for the DLIELC students.  She is a volunteer with a charity called Threads of Love (TOL). This group of volunteers make items for premature infants in intensive care.  

After the sewing headquarters were closed to abide with the stay at home request, the sewers were asked to make cover masks for the nurses and doctors for the hospitals they supply with TOL items.  Ladies from her church decided to sew the masks at home.

“We continue to do this, but we are now sewing masks for policemen, firemen, and EMS. So we went from sewing masks with ties to sewing masks with elastic,” said Vida. “I had fabric pieces that I washed and cut in rectangles. This is the fabric used for the 40 masks I made for DLIELC. I was happy to provide masks to students allowing them to have safer mobility around the base. Since I had recent experience making masks, I knew I could make more masks while at home to support the Warhawk Family.”

Vida has personal connection to teaching which helps to relate to the mission of DLIELC. Vida studied fashion design and worked in that field in New York City. She moved south, sewed in factories, earned two degrees, and became a secondary teacher for English, French, and History, retiring after 34 years of teaching.  

“I learned to sew on my grandmother’s Singer treadle machine 65 years ago,” Vida added. 

DLI has received 160 homemade donated masks from AMIGO Sponsors.  The DLIELC team and Warhawk Family are grateful to these volunteers and appreciate their donations for those in need. 

“What a tribute to the generosity of American citizens right here in San Antonio helping those students DLI has from throughout the world,” said Col. Kouji Gillis, DLIELC Commandant. "Thank you to all of our AMIGO sponsors for making a difference!"