CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti - A team of Soldiers from the U.S. Army's 402nd Civil Affairs Battalion teamed up with townspeople in Dikhil, Djibouti, this month to renovate the region's only high school.

The goal of the two-month project, which began April 16, is to renovate six classrooms and an office with a new ceiling, windows, doors, lighting fixtures, blackboards and a fresh coat of paint.

The problems with the school are mainly due to termites and pigeon waste, which have accumulated and weighed down the ceilings, making it unsafe for the students, said U.S. Army Capt. Courtney Sanders, chief of Civil Affairs Team 402.

"What's going on is, the pigeons have roosted in the ceilings of the classrooms," Sanders said. "And the termites of course eat the wood," she said. Water damage and mold are also significant problems with the school. "

In addition to the threat of collapsing the school's ceiling, the 700 or so students are at risk of becoming infected with histoplasmosis, a fungal infection caused by breathing airborne mold particles commonly found in areas with high concentrations of bird droppings, she said.

The nearly $10,000 project is being completed with the help of townspeople, especially in terms of supplying manual labor, the organization of which has been coordinated by the Dikhil Prefect, Mohammad Cheiko Hassan.

"The majority of the work is actually done by the prefect's laborers, as well as the Parent Teacher Association here in Dikhil," Sanders said. "From day one they've beat us to the work site. They're very excited about this project.

"This is something that they've been wanting on for a long time. They're motivated, they're happy and they welcome us with open arms," she said.

Their efforts have been such that the project could finish weeks ahead of schedule, Sanders said, and reflect the high value the people ascribe to a functioning school.

Education is very important in Dikhil, said Houssein Awaleh, Dikhil Prefect Construction Department manager.

"This is for the kids, for their education, and that's crucial, and because of that we're very thankful to everyone who is helping us," Houssein said.

For their part, the six-person Army team facilitated the project, procured the necessary materials and began ripping out the parts of the school needing replacement. The deconstruction phase had to be completed by April 23 so as to not interfere with the student class schedules, Sanders said.

In addition, the 402nd team plans to provide the school with a fresh coat of paint and renovate six classrooms and an office.

Team member Sgt. Dennis Figueroa said he's looking forward to seeing the end result of the renovation.

"I want to see them have something new, something that they worked hard for," Figueroa said. "They've been working hard on this, renovating the school. This is something they can have pride in."

Once the project is complete, the building will be maintained by the laborers who carried out the renovations. Dikhil has the only high school in its region, and students from all over the area travel to attend classes there.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16