By Petty Officer 2nd Class Timothy Wilson, Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa Public AffairsFebruary 14, 2011
CHOMONI, Comoros - The children of Chomoni, Comoros, once had a broken building of a school with holes in the walls, corroded interiors and desks with jagged edges.
That is, until the Joint Civil Affairs Team (JCAT) 101 from the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa undertook a project to rebuild the Chomoni Primary School for Children with the help of the townspeople.
"We have been expecting help from many people for a long time, but the Americans came and fulfilled that promise," said Farid Ali, headmaster of the school. "I want to thank the civil affairs team for working here, and the U.S. government for allowing the kids to have a proper education."
U.S. Army Capt. Ivan Hong, JCAT 101 officer-in-charge, said one of the primary missions of the team, in partnership with the Comorian government, is to expand essential services, including primary education for children.
U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class James Jones provided technical support to the villagers who came to assist with the massive undertaking.
"Together, we helped identify how we were going to go about the project and what the local construction people had as far as tools and skills," Jones said. "Once that was all done, it all came together like clockwork."
All the materials for the project were collected from village vendors and the JCAT provided guidance on how to use them while more than 30 volunteers performed the labor. These efforts not only boosted the local economy but also the village as a whole.
"These hardworking people are learning a trade as they help their community, in addition to learning safety and techniques that will last them a lifetime," Jones said. "It is truly an awe-inspiring and unbelievable sight to see the dedication they are putting into this mission."
One of the much needed improvements was repairing the ramshackle wrought iron desks used by the children.
"Every one of the desks was broken in many places," said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Kostoulakos of the JCAT. "The broken ends were welded together so the children would not fall through the seats and hurt themselves."
Windows with rusted-steel frames were replaced with wooden frames so that sea salt in the air would not cause as much corrosive damage over time.
"Instead of putting something that would deteriorate quickly, the wood will last them longer, plus it's from the locals, helping their economy," Jones said. "Also, it is easy for the people to obtain these materials."
Bricklayers mixed rocks and sand from the nearby beach with cement to shore up a wall surrounding the school to keep livestock from disturbing the children while classes are in session.
Jones praised the efforts of the community and said he was proud to be a part of such an undertaking.
"The volunteers are role models for their community," Jones said. "These are the people that the children look up to."
"This project is for the children," said Ali Hamada, a volunteer and teacher at the school.
The project, completed at the end January, made seating possible for nearly 200 students, an increase from barely 50 previously, Jones said. Because of the lack of space, the children would often stay home for a lack of room to study.
"The children will benefit from this opportunity for more education in the future," Ali said.
"This is one of the most gratifying things I have ever done as a civil affairs operator," Jones said. "It's the first time I have ever been to Africa and my first time working in a joint effort with the Army."
"We worked hand in hand and it's the best feeling working with the kids and the local community," he added. "It's the best thing I have ever done as a sailor."