14 April 2016
The smell of new paint and sounds of hurried shouts fill the air as Sappers from 21 Construction Squadron, 6th Engineer Support Regiment, rush to assist their American and Filipino counterparts to finish the fit out on a brand new school roof during Exercise Balikatan 2016 on the Philippine island of Panay.
Exercise Balikatan 2016 saw a contingent of 86 personnel from a range of specialisations across the ADF deploy to the Republic of the Philippines to take part in the annual United States and Philippine bilateral exercise, now in it's 32nd iteration.
Sapper Chad Horne a Carpenter, from Amberley based 21 Construction Regiment said that the Engineers were over here in a support role to the US Military and Armed Forces of the Philippines in helping reconstruct the San Nicolas elementary school.
"Since we've been here we've had to replace the roof. It's an all steel structure roof and tied in so nothing can get blown away again. We've painted new doors and windows and provided new chalk boards along with lights and fans in the classrooms" said Sapper Horne.
Unfortunately the school is located in a district where the local Filipino community were ravaged by Tropical Cyclone Yolanda but that hasn't diminished their generosity and appreciation explained Sapper Scott Nolan.
"The locals here have treated us very well, they've come into our job site and greeted us with welcome arms, they provided us with some food and some water and they constantly come past with smiles on their faces" he said.
Ms Merlinda Navarra, a grade three teacher at the San Nicholas Elementary school were the construction is taking place said that for the last three years, they had been using the school without a roof.
"When it rains we just move to the other side of the room the right side or the left side. Thank you very much for repairing this building, as the pupils will be the ones that really benefit from the project" she said.
Sapper Nolan said that working on the construction job on Exercise Balikatan had given the Australian engineers and the other nations involved with the project a lot of satisfaction.
"Seeing the locals, the smiles on their faces and the fact that we're giving back to a community that doesn't have a lot, gives you a sense of humbling and a sense of pride and the fact that you're putting on this uniform and representing your country is very fulfilling" he said.