ORMOC CITY, Leyte -- The only things shining brighter than a clear-sky sun for residents were the eyes and smiles of children as they mingled with Philippine Soldiers and U.S. military engineers during groundbreaking ceremonies at the Don Carlos Elementary School and Margen Elementary School, here, April 25, 2017.
Leaders from the U.S. military, Philippine Army, and Ormoc City conducted the ceremonies to kick off engineering civic action programs that will give students new classrooms.
"What we're doing here now is building classes, social, and civic activities, and I'm very happy that the visiting forces are here together with us now, said the Honorable Richard Gomez, Ormoc City mayor. “This is a wonderful event and we're very grateful Balikatan is happening here in Ormoc City.".
The classroom construction projects are possible thanks to the combined efforts of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and U.S. military engineers.
"Balikatan is a Tagalog word meaning ‘shoulder-to-shoulder,’ and it is the spirit of cooperation," said Philippine Soldier Col. Lowel R. Tan, deputy commander of the 802nd Infantry Brigade, 8th Infantry Division.
More than 40 engineers from the AFP, U.S. military, and Australian Army will work shoulder-to-shoulder to build Margen Elementary a new classroom which will increase the school's capacity by approximately 100 students.
"This is all humanitarian service where we can foster and build relationships with the Philippine forces, and we can teach each other new things in order to build this classroom for Ormoc," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Scott Kelly, site commander at Margen Elementary School. "The cross cultural and technical skills learning we get during Balikatan is unmatched."
The learning experience between Balikatan participants will go a long way to enhance future humanitarian assistance efforts. These projects also benefit the children of Ormoc City.
"We are so grateful to have the building for our children because they will have a more comfortable classroom, and we can see their eagerness in coming to school because of it," said Maria Nodalo, a teacher at Margen Elementary School.