By MC3 Kristen Cheyenne Yarber, Southern Partnership Station 17 Public Affairs
TOCOA, Honduras – Nestled between a small community and towering green hills in Tocoa, Honduras, sits a school, surrounded by four concrete walls. The only entrance is a rusty gate on one of the wall’s corners. Inside, children in school uniforms run to and from classes, laughing and kicking soccer balls under palm trees.
The exterior of the school was chipped and scratched, before Seabees assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 1 (NMCB 1) arrived on site to paint it, Aug. 28.
“I really enjoy coming out and helping people,” said Builder Constructionman Dever Kelly, assigned to NMCB 1. “I don’t want to sit on camp all day; I would rather go out and do something that matters.”
Kelly participated in eight of the nine Southern Partnership Station 17 (SPS 17) community relation projects (COMRELs) in Honduras. However, the schoolhouse for this particular event was bigger than the ones before, requiring the skill and expertise of Seabees.
“The Seabees wanted to have a project that they could own,” said Lt. Cmdr. Lee Rutledge, a chaplain assigned to Commander, Naval Surface Squadron Fourteen. “This was actually the biggest painting project.”
Paulo Freire School consists of two buildings, each measuring approximately 150 feet long. These buildings would take two workdays to complete.
On the first day, the team painted the initial blue coat on the front of the school and primed the trim. The second day, they completed the back of the schoolhouse and painted the trim white.
Students from the school often came to check on the Sailors’ progress, curiously surveying and conversing in Spanish.
“Working with the people is fun,” said Kelly. “You get to learn stuff about different people and different cultures.”
While this event required only painting, it is not the only service the Seabees contributed during COMRELs. They also performed plumbing, construction, and electrical work for local schools.
“Just something as simple as running water can make a world of difference to these people,” said Kelly.
After painting the schoolhouse, Carlos Aguilar, governor of Coln Department, and school district officials hosted a ceremony commemorating the Sailors for their efforts. Students danced, sang, and performed a puppet show as a way of giving thanks to the Sailors.
“It brings me a lot of personal fulfillment to be able to give back and help out,” said Rutledge.
So far, nine COMRELs, with 45 volunteers, resulted in over 1000 hours of service to Honduran communities.
Members of NMCB 1 and their fellow troops are already looking ahead to more opportunities to help citizens during the next mission stop of SPS 17.