Africa Partnership Station stops leaks for learning
PORT GENTILE, Gabon — Africa Partnership Station (APS) Seabees and crew members stationed aboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43) volunteered to replace a leaky roof for an African school called Matanda March 8.
Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 74 Seabees and Sailors from Fort McHenry are part of the APS staff visiting here, designed to support and strengthen regional maritime safety and security in West and Central Africa.
Part of the APS mission is to promote good will with each country it visits. To accomplish this goal, volunteers have visited schools, hospitals, orphanages, and several other humanitarian projects.
"The most important thing is that the roof was finished, because when the rain season comes, the children miss a lot of school from the leaks," said Annie Nwemandji, Director of the Matanda School.
The Navy's involvement is a part of APS' community relations project (COMREL) intended to help African countries in need of assistance. The Matanda School COMREL is a way to heighten the standards of living for the students. Some of the building tasks that the Seabees have undertaken include electrical re-wiring, fabricating an unfinished roof and adding supports to provide cover for four classrooms. The rest of the changes consist of bracing and strengthening desks for the children, allowing them to learn in more stable conditions.
"We started by ripping the old roof off and braced the roofing structure, making it stronger so it can withstand weather, and then installed lights," said Navy Construction Electrician 3rd Class Steven Joachim of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 74.
Throughout the project, the children played with volunteers, listened to music and showed off their soccer skills to the Sailors. "We learned how these kids go to school is very different then the way we go to school in America. Here it is more of a privilege to be in school. I can see what they go through and compare it to my life," added Joachim.
Four Gabonese engineers were asked to assist the Seabees in their project as part of the cooperative partnership between APS and the Gabonese military. "We are very happy to have worked with the Seabees, we ate lunch together and this type of cooperation builds strong relationships with our countries," said Gabonese Navy Sailor Alexander Bikoukou. "The hardest part of working together was the inability to understand what each other were saying. We use a lot of hand motions for tools and where to put materials since we do not speak the same language. However, after awhile we learned to work it out and get the job done."
Part of the U.S. Navy's Global Fleet Station, APS provides a platform with the capacity and persistent presence to support sustained, focused training and collaboration on a regional scale to maritime partners in West and Central Africa. Commander Task Force 365 and training teams from various U.S. and European military commands, as well as governmental and non-governmental organizations are embarked on board Fort McHenry to enhance cooperative partnerships.