NEWS | Sept. 23, 2014

Airmen and Soldiers from Guam and Hawaii help rebuild Philippines school

By Maj. Josephine Blas Guam National Guard

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines - Students from the Marasbaras National High School in Tacloban City, Philippines, will soon be able to attend classes indoors thanks to efforts by Airmen and Soldiers from the Guam National Guard, the Hawaii National Guard and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The project was geared primarily to support the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Reserve Command through Subject Matter Expert Exchanges (SMEEs) during a Engineer Civic Action Project (ENCAP) outreach here from July through August.

The mission, under the National Guard's State Partnership Program (SPP), also helps strengthen relations between the Republic of the Philippines and the U.S. The Philippines is the state partner to the Guam and Hawaii National Guard.

Seven classrooms in three buildings at the school were severely damaged in November of last year when Typhoon Haiyan swept through and devastated parts of the Philippines, but especially in Tacloban City, where more than 6,000 people died and many more were displaced.

A Turnover Ceremony was held at the school on Sept. 14 to showcase the completed buildings and hand over the keys to the school.

In her welcoming remarks, Iris C. Ting, chairman, Barangay 81 Marasbaras, said, "we are all witnesses of a very momentous event, the turnover ceremony of school buildings. Ten months ago, the strongest typhoon ever recorded swept across our city. We have seen damages it brought to our homes, buildings and properties, not to mention the lives that were lost. But God turned it around and opened doors and opportunities to rebuild what was lost. New friendships were forged, one of which was through the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Guam National Guard and Hawaii National Guard State Partnership Program (SPP)."

Several AFP, Guam Guard and Hawaii Guard leaders, community leaders, as well as some of the Soldiers and Airmen who helped with the rebuilding project, celebrated the turnover.

Rear Adm. Romeo Santiago O. Nebres, deputy chief of staff for reserve and retiree affairs for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), thanked all who participated in the rebuilding of the school buildings - the Guam National Guard, the Hawaii National Guard, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and even the Republic of Korea. "This project signifies and shows what can be accomplished when we help each other. There could not be any better investment we can do than to invest in the education of the next generation of our citizens. This project spanned two months, but will touch the lives of so many children for many years to come."

The project began in July with teams of Airmen and Soldiers from the Guam Guard's 254th Red Horse Squadron, the 1224th Engineer Support Company and the Hawaii Guard's 230th Engineers rotating every few weeks through completion of the humanitarian assistance project.

Maj. Gen. Benny M. Paulino, the adjutant general of the Guam National Guard, agreed with Rear Adm. Nebres that the SPP is a great opportunity to support and learn from each other.

"It's a new beginning for the students of Marasbaras National High School. We are very excited to have been able to support, work and train alongside the engineer professionals from Armed Forces of the Philippines and the local government with the wonderful consequences of providing needed relief support to the residents of Barangay Marasbaras. Our reward is seeing your smiling faces and knowing that in some way, we were able to help you."

"Today is for the students and the people of Tacloban City, which is truly the reason why we are here," said Maj. Gen. Darryll D.M. Wong, the adjutant general of the Hawaii National Guard. "After taking care of the most basic needs of food, water and shelter, the most important aspect of any recovery operation is getting the schools operational again. Education is not just the key to ensure the next generation prepare for the future, it's the best indicator that a disaster area is returning to normal. Getting students back to class in a real classroom where they can study the way they deserve is our gift to the people of Tacloban."

The high school serves hundreds of students who have had to attend classes outdoors since the typhoon, according to Basilisa D. Negru, the school principal. There are a total of 14 buildings in the school, three of which were just rebuilt and are now in working condition.

"These buildings and other accessories, including comfort rooms, ceiling fans and lights - it is now properly lit and well ventilated - they were built to the highest standards of design and construction and will last for decades and longer. They are a sign of dedication and commitment from our heroes, the people of Guam, the people of Hawaii and the Armed Forces of the Philippines," Negru said.

"After Typhoon Yolanda, few students had an interest in coming back to school because there was nothing to return to. We strived so hard to keep school running. Thanks to the members of the Guam National Guard, the Hawaii National Guard and the Armed Forces of the Philippines who painstakingly worked for the completion of these buildings. I am proud and pleased at the quality of this project, but what I am most proud of is that this was more than just a project of brick and mortar that was placed, but the relationships we have built, the personal and professional experiences we have shared. Working shoulder to shoulder in the spirit of bayanihan, the kind of spirit is far stronger than the physical structure itself. We say thank you and salute our heroes!"

The project included demolishing and replacing existing roofing panels and damaged structures, constructing new roofs, upgrading the electrical system, installing light fixtures and ceiling fans and replacing windows and doors in three buildings and seven classrooms. The service members also helped repair a flagpole, restore and rebuild the stage and refurbish the landscape which has flooding problems.

The State Partnership Program (SPP) has existed in the Philippines since 2001. The SPP is a Department of Defense-sponsored program administered by NGB, partnering Guard units from different states with selected countries for nation-building, among other projects.

According to Paulino, "since this partnership was initiated, we have been one of the most active in the National Guard, completing over 70 events in 12 years. Events include medical and engineering missions, specialized training and leader visits that have allowed us to learn from each other and exchange subject matter expertise. There are so much more we can do and as long as I am able, we will always work to help the Philippines," he said.