Soldiers Help to Build Schools in Yemen
February 14, 2007
SOCOTRA, Yemen (American Forces Press Service, Feb. 14, 2007) - Taking a heading directly off the tip of the Horn of Africa and southeast of Yemen will find travelers on a wind-swept 80-mile long by 20-mile wide island in the Indian Ocean that is both remote and beautiful.
It is on this island that U.S. Army representatives from the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa found themselves recently lending support and technical advice to island residents to build better infrastructure.
For the people of Socotra, the traditional building material for structures is stones available from the outskirts of towns. No mines or quarries exist as the Socotrans are protective of the environment. Houses and schools are built with glass in the windows, but some windows are without glass; instead they rely on heavy shutters to keep out the elements while allowing the sea breeze in to cool of the buildings.
While these materials can stand the test of time and elements -namely monsoons that can bring strong winds and high seas - Army engineers seized the opportunity to spend three days in January with village elders and contractors in Usama Bin Zaid and Omar Al Kittab to improve their buildings.
"We normally review the quality control in the building of traditional concrete blocks; however, the Socotrans were using stone," said Capt. Andrew Bouchard. "So we taught them to ensure the quality of the cement used to solidify the stones was free of organics that could weaken over time, as well as assisting in the quality control associated with straight and level walls."
The Army team was also able to demonstrate to their counterparts how the materials in the cement can weaken metals over a short period of time when improperly mixed.
The projects advised on by the Army team on this trip were two schools for the villages, with much of their attention focused on discussing effective solutions to make the schools more efficient.
While helping to build the two schools, the team had to seek solutions to other engineering challenges, like adequate power sources.
"Originally, we thought that we could run an electric power line from a substation further away, but that did not work well," said Bouchard. "The town has minimal power. Houses and the schools are without power. We are going to change the contract to include the introduction of solar power."
The quality control expertise and future addition of electricity are small examples of how the task force is helping this community, much in the same manner as other communities in this region.
While the technical aspects of the jobs were important, equally important was sharing an exchange of culture. An example of the cultural exchange occurred when Bouchard was invited to lunch by one of the town's leaders.
"We talked about the island and his community, and how the leaders of the town are entrusted with the decisions that affect the village," said Bouchard. "The sheik told us how happy he was to have [the task force] involved with his community and he commented that he liked the fashion by which one school at a time is built so as not to impact the children learning."
Bouchard added the meal was prepared by the sheik's wife and consisted of fish, rice, and goat, which he found out were Socotran diet mainstays.
Bouchard also discovered during his discussion over lunch that a very large majority of the community's favorite football team is Arsenal of England.
"They listen as often as possible given the radio reception," said Bouchard.
The mission of the task force is to prevent conflict, promote regional stability and protect coalition interests to prevail against extremism. The task force began operations at Camp Lemonier, Djibouti May 13, 2003. It works with partner nations on humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, consequence management, civic action programs to include medical and veterinary care, school and medical clinic construction and water development projects.