Guam – Ten Soldiers from the Guam Army National Guard’s 1224th Engineer Support Company returned from the Philippines over the weekend after completing their part in helping build a library for an elementary school in central Luzon, about two hours north of Manila.
The mission was geared primarily to support the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Reserve Command through a Subject Matter Expert Exchange (SMEE) under the State Partnership Program (SPP). The library being built is for the San Isidro Elementary School in San Isidro, Sta. Ana, Pampanga.
The project is at least 75 percent complete and will be ready to be officially opened with a ribbon cutting ceremony on May 19, according to Capt. Chris Cruz, project Officer-In-Charge (OIC) and an engineer officer with the 254th RED HORSE Squadron. The project started with the Army Engineers along with five Airmen from the Philippine Air Force 600th Air Base Wing. Midway through, the Soldiers handed over the remainder of the project to the 13 Airmen from the 254th RHS, who are also now working with the PAF engineers.
Also noticing a lack of sports equipment, the Soldiers pooled resources and donated volleyballs and badminton sets to the school. The school’s badminton team is the town’s current school badminton league champions, according to teacher and Coach Kristel Alimagno.
[SPC Natasha Fejeran (left) and SPC Therese San Agustin, both electricians with the 1224th ESC, work on the wiring for the new library at an elementary school in Santa Ana, San Isidro, Pampanga, in the central Luzon Island of the Philippines. The Soldiers were building the library with their Airman counterparts from the 254th RED HORSE Squadron, in support of the AFP Reserve Command as part of the SPP initiative. (GUNG Photo by CPT Ken Ola)]
The school serves at least 750 children in grades K – 6, all having to fit in 19 classrooms, according to Leilani Capati, the new principal, at the school. There are 19 teachers in the entire school, pinning the ratio at a minimum of 40 students to one teacher, based on last year’s enrollment. Teachers said they expect at least a two percent rise in the number of students in the coming school year.
There are a high number of non-readers in the Philippine school system overall, according to Capati, although it is hoped the new K-12 curriculum in the Philippine Department of Education is designed to decrease that number. Currently, students in the Philippine education system go through 10 grades to complete elementary and high school requirements.
“Building a library for this school is a big blessing not only for the children in San Isidro but also for the whole barangay. We feel lucky we were chosen,” Capati said.
“This library can help the pupils to increase their reading knowledge. This also helps the school in their research and in working on their assignments. A library can really help the children a lot in informing them about the new trends in education.”
The school presently uses a makeshift library that is in a room shared for use as a classroom, clinic and storage area, according to Alimagno, who is also school librarian. Among what’s needed for the library is reading materials for the younger kids, she added.
The project involved demolition of an old concrete pad, pouring a new 18×24 concrete pad, and putting up columns, a job the 1224th ESC team members were familiar with, being part of a horizontal engineering unit.
SSG Alejandro Diaz, 1224th ESC team NCOIC, said the project was a great experience for his Soldiers, who learned to work with the AFP engineers and were also able to exercise their secondary military occupational skills (MOS).
“The project was a very good joint effort between Guam National Guard and the Philippine Air Force engineers… It was a good working relationship with the teams of engineers in providing community service to the Filipino people. It was a good experience using our secondary MOS skills,” Diaz said.
SGT Christopher Espinosa, one of the 1224th ESC plumbing supervisor, described how the Guam Soldiers learned about their PAF counterparts’ work ethic.
“We learned that they are hard working and professional. They are pretty resourceful. They get things done no matter what,” he said. It was first time for all the Soldiers in the team to work in an SPP SMEE in the Philippines, according to Diaz.
Missions like these through the SPP also help strengthen relations between the Republic of the Philippines and the U.S. The SPP is a Department of Defense sponsored program administered by the National Guard Bureau (NGB), partnering Guard units from different states with selected countries for nation building, among other projects. The Philippines is the Guam Guard’s partner state.