TALCAHUANO, Chile (NNS) -- Sailors assigned to guided-missile frigates USS Boone (FFG 28) and USS Thach (FFG 43) participated in a community relations project at an elementary school in Talcahuano, Chile, June 13.
The 18 Sailors repainted classrooms and a cafeteria, and assisted with landscaping at Escuela Corneta Cabrales, a local elementary school near the Talcahuano Naval Base.
The 59-year-old school provides education for more than 450 students and is staffed with 22 teachers. The school was greatly affected by an earthquake and tsunami, which struck Chile in 2010. Sailors painted the school and removed debris, while construction workers fixed significant structural problems.
"I spent most of the day clearing brush and briars away from the fence around the student's recess area," said Yeoman 1st Class (SW/AW) Gary Harn, USS Thach. "The students were so excited to meet American Sailors that they asked for our autographs."
The Sailors moved a large pile of old desks and furniture that was heavily overgrown with vines, to an open area where the garbage trucks could easily access it for removal. They also repainted the cafeteria.
"The children eat three meals a day in the cafeteria," said Nancy Dalile Soto Herrera, school director. "It is important that they have some place clean for their meals."
After painting, the Sailors gave the children soccer balls and spent time in the courtyard playing basketball and talking with the them. Before leaving, the children sang the Chilean national anthem for the Sailors, and teachers demonstrated traditional Chilean dances.
"Most of the children come from navy families, so they were comfortable and affectionate with the American Sailors," said Herrera. "They even asked if they could keep soccer balls as souvenirs instead of playing with them. It was especially beautiful for me to see the Sailors interact with the children because my father was in the Navy."
The motto of Escuala Corneta Cabrales is "La Union hace la fuerza y la diversidad la riqueza," which translates to "With unity; strength, and diversity; richness."
"On deployment, it can be difficult because often we do not speak the local language," said Lt. j.g. Andrew Bingham, USS Boone. "The children didn't care what language we spoke. They just wanted to spend time and have fun with us. With a motto like theirs, we have just as much to learn from the kids as they do from us."
Boone and Thach are in Talcahuano for a port visit during their Southern Seas 2011 deployment. The port call is part of a six-week stretch of American-Chilean naval exercises culminating in the Pacific Phase of UNITAS.
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