Philippine and U.S. Airmen renovate school in need

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Amber E. N. Jacobs
  • Pacific Angel 14-6 Public Affairs
Imagine sitting in a crammed classroom next to 60 other children with hardly any room to move.

Not only is it crowded, but during summer break all of the electrical wiring was stolen throughout the facility, which means no electric fans in 100 degree weather. Not only is it sweltering and jam-packed in the classrooms, imagine having to spend all day with no running water and no working toilets.

That was the reality for 1,375 children and teachers at Buyong Elementary School in Barangay Maribago, Lapu-Lapu City, Philippines, until 25 Airmen from the 374th Civil Engineer Squadron from Yokota Air Base, Japan, partnered with members from the Philippine air force during Operation Pacific Unity 14-6, which took place from May 19 to June 20.

In collaboration with host nation civil authorities and military personnel, Pacific Unity was founded in 2010 as a bilateral Engineering Civic Action Program that focuses on providing humanitarian assistance in the Asia-Pacific region.

"Every year, (Pacific Air Forces) chooses a location (for) a humanitarian project," said 1st Lt. Kory Carpenter, a Pacific Unity 14-6 project officer. "Specifically this one is important because it shows how committed we are to the Philippines … We've always had a close relationship. By coming here and showing this gesture of goodwill, it confirms that alliance we have."

Pacific Unity 14-6 focused on providing relief to teachers and students in the Philippines by constructing two permanent concrete classrooms and restoring electricity and running water to the school.

When the site survey was performed in January, the build site was a burn pit and landfill directly adjacent to the schoolrooms, Carpenter said. If more classrooms were built there instead of a landfill, it would have had a positive impact on alleviating pressure put on the teachers due to overcrowded classrooms.

Ground breaking for the project began May 19 and construction continued through June 20. During the 31 days, Airmen from the U.S and Philippines turned trash into an education opportunity.

"We had quite a few side projects, the first being the restoration of utilities to all of the school houses," Carpenter said. "Thieves had stolen all of the wiring for the copper. We rented jack hammers and pickaxes and hand trenched for a week straight through coral in order to lay new cable, incased in concrete -- now it’s theftproof."

Once the electricity was restored, the team's next major focus was on restoring water for two bathroom facilities located on the school grounds.

"We installed a pump and a catchment system on the roofs so when it rains, it goes into the tanks and the tanks fill the bathrooms," said Senior Master Sgt. Roel Dauz, the 374th CES NCO in charge of the Pacific Unity 14-6 engineering team and a native of the Philippines.

The Filipino people were not the only ones to benefit from this project. The Airmen from the 374th CES had the opportunity to learn unique construction techniques from their Philippine air force counter parts.

"While we were here, we learned new construction techniques that we've never seen before," Carpenter said. "Whenever they level a ceiling or a window, they would use a tube and water to tell if it is level, which is a lot faster than our bubble levels and laser levels."

One of the things Dauz said stood out to him was the mutual determination to remain motivated throughout the duration of the project.

"When we came here, we started hammering and working because we had to meet a deadline and we didn't have time to get used to the 100 degree heat," he said. "Some Airmen got sick, but they were able to recover; some worked with broken fingers, minor cuts and bruises, but they just kept going, their motivation remained high."

One reason for the high motivation throughout the project was that many who assisted with Pacific Unity were volunteers.

"We had people volunteer out of their deployment cycle to come on this mission, myself included,” Carpenter said. “It's such a great mission to be able and come and do real engineering for 30 days.".

For Dauz this project in the Philippines became personal after immigrating to the U.S. in September 1987.

"My career is winding down and I only have a few years left in the service, but to be able to do this kind of mission at this stage in my career; what a way to close it out," Dauz said. "When I was growing up, I went to a public school like this. I thought this was the norm. I was one of those kids when I was growing up, and now I'm trying to make their lives better."

The overall success of Pacific Unity 14-6 is not based solely on the construction of the new classrooms, but rather it's the impact on the community.

"That school will probably last for a very long time," Dauz said. "A month ago, there was a garbage dump there and look at it now, its majestic."