443rd CA BN: Making a Difference in Djibouti One Class At a Time

Right, U.S. Army Sgt. Joe Swilley, 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion, and a translator talk to students in the English Discussion Group beginner’s class at the hotel trade school, Lycee Hotelier d’Arta in Arta, Djibouti. U.S. Army Sgt. and Translator Talk to Students in English Discussion Group Class

Right, U.S. Army Sgt. Joe Swilley, 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion, and a translator talk to students in the English Discussion Group beginner’s class at the hotel trade school, Lycee Hotelier d’Arta in Arta, Djibouti. The five-person civil affairs team teaches beginner and advanced classes at the school every Wednesday and Thursday at the request of the Arta prefect. The classes build upon the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa’s mission to foster relationships within Djibouti based on mutual trust and respect.

U.S. Army Spc. Andrew Paget, 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion, teaches students during the Advanced English Discussion Group at the hotel trade school, Lycee Hotelier d’Arta in Arta, Djibouti. U.S. Army Spc. Teaches Student During Advanced English Discussion Group

U.S. Army Spc. Andrew Paget, 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion, teaches students during the Advanced English Discussion Group at the hotel trade school, Lycee Hotelier d’Arta in Arta, Djibouti. The five-person civil affairs team teaches beginner and advanced classes at the school every Wednesday and Thursday at the request of the Arta prefect. The classes build upon the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa’s mission to foster relationships within Djibouti based on mutual trust and respect.

After the English Discussion Group class students head to the kitchen to prepare lunch for the hands-on portion of their training at the hotel trade school, Lycee Hotelier d’Arta in Arta, Djibouti. Students Prepare Lunch After English Discussion Group

After the English Discussion Group class students head to the kitchen to prepare lunch for the hands-on portion of their training at the hotel trade school, Lycee Hotelier d’Arta in Arta, Djibouti. Students who attend this school learn the skills needed for the restaurant and hospitality industry. The 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion five-person civil affairs team teaches beginner and advanced English classes at the school every Wednesday and Thursday at the request of the Arta prefect. The classes build upon the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa’s mission to foster relationships within Djibouti based on mutual trust and respect.

U.S. Army Spc. Travis Rehnelt, 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion, talks to the students in the English Discussion Group beginner’s class at the hotel trade school, Lycee Hotelier d’Arta in Arta, Djibouti. U.S. Army Spc. Talks to Students in English Discussion Group Beginner's Class

U.S. Army Spc. Travis Rehnelt, 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion, talks to the students in the English Discussion Group beginner’s class at the hotel trade school, Lycee Hotelier d’Arta in Arta, Djibouti. The five-person civil affairs team teaches beginner and advanced classes at the school every Wednesday and Thursday at the request of the Arta prefect. The classes build upon the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa’s mission to foster relationships within Djibouti based on mutual trust and respect.

The hotel trade school, Lycee Hotelier d’Arta in Arta, Djibouti, sits on the top of a hill overlooking Arta Beach and offers students the opportunity to learn skills for the restaurant and hospitality industry. Hotel Trade School Sits on Hill Overlooking Arta Beach

The hotel trade school, Lycee Hotelier d’Arta in Arta, Djibouti, sits on the top of a hill overlooking Arta Beach and offers students the opportunity to learn skills for the restaurant and hospitality industry. The 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion teaches beginner and advanced English Discussion Group classes at the school every Wednesday and Thursday at the request of the Arta prefect. The classes build upon the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa’s mission to foster relationships within Djibouti based on mutual trust and respect.

U.S. Army Capt. Bismark Vergara, 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion, goes over the class notes of Nasser, handyman at hotel trade school, Lycee Hotelier d’Arta in Arta, Djibouti. U.S. Army Capt. Goes Over Handyman's Class Notes At Hotel Trade School

U.S. Army Capt. Bismark Vergara, 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion, goes over the class notes of Nasser, handyman at hotel trade school, Lycee Hotelier d’Arta in Arta, Djibouti. When he has time, Nasser attends the English Discussion Group beginner’s class, which is taught by the five-person civil affairs team every Wednesday and Thursday and enjoys discussing with the team what he has learned. The classes, requested by the Arta prefect, build upon the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa’s mission to foster relationships within Djibouti based on mutual trust and respect.

U.S. Army Capt. Bismark Vergara, 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion, speaks with Mouktar Hassan Bouh, resident English teacher at the hotel trade school, Lycee Hotelier d’Arta in Arta, Djibouti. U.S. Army Capt. Speaks with Resident English Teacher at Hotel Trade School

U.S. Army Capt. Bismark Vergara, 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion, speaks with Mouktar Hassan Bouh, resident English teacher at the hotel trade school, Lycee Hotelier d’Arta in Arta, Djibouti. The 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion teaches beginner and advanced English Discussion Group classes at the school every Wednesday and Thursday at the request of the Arta prefect. The classes build upon the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa’s mission to foster relationships within Djibouti based on mutual trust and respect.

At the top of a hill overlooking the Gulf of Tadjoura, sits the hotel trade school, Lycee Hotelier d’Arta. The school provides Djiboutian teens the opportunity to learn skills for the restaurant and hospitality industry.

Nearly 100 students attend the school and must meet specific criteria, such as graduating from middle school, before being accepted into the four year program.

While most of the students speak French, the key to being hired in a Djibouti City hotel is the ability to speak English, and Soldiers from the 443rd Civil Affairs Battalion (CA BN) help make this happen.

“My team teaches two one and a half to two hour classes at the school every Wednesday and Thursday,” said U.S. Army Capt. Bismark Vergara, 443rd CA BN.  “The Arta prefect requested the English Conversation Group program, so my team created a curriculum that we can leave here and they can follow. A lot of work went into putting it together and they did a tremendous job.”

 The team teaches one advanced class, two basic classes, and an interpreter helps out when needed. U.S. Army Spc. Andrew Paget, 443rd CA BN, teaches advanced English to the senior class, who will graduate soon.

“All the students are doing awesome,” Paget said. “We do reviews and all the students were yelling out the answers. Then I knew it was too easy, so I try to challenge them.”

When the team first arrived in Arta it took a while to get the program off the ground, but the community quickly embraced them when they saw how much they were helping the students.

 “We try to get them to talk about anything, family, cooking, jobs. They’re getting a lot better,” said U.S. Army Spc. Travis Rehnelt, 443rd CA BN team one member and beginners class instructor. “The people are very happy to see us. When we first came here they were like who are you, but now they know us.”

Recognizing the difference in personalities has been an important part of connecting with the students and helping them pick up the new language more quickly.

“The Thursday class is wilder, so we adjusted our teaching style to fit the kids. After the first few classes we picked out the ones who were catching on more quickly, but now I realize that even the quiet kids have it,” Rehnelt said. “We are in week eight of teaching English and there have been immense improvements. The kids went from greetings only to now being able to tell me what they’re doing on the weekends. First we taught nouns and verbs and now we’re onto predicates and putting sentences together. The interpreter only has to jump in occasionally, when at first he had to interpret everything.”

After the day’s English class, the students who are training to be chefs or chef assistants get busy preparing and cooking a three course meal in the school’s kitchen, which is then served to the staff and the civil affairs team. The meals usually consist of a small salad, chicken or fish, rice or noodles, plus a dessert like a fruit cocktail or specialty pudding.

Their presence at this school is about much more than English. It’s also about building relationships in the community, and one way was to help the school raise money to fund the hands-on portion of their training.

“There’s a seating area where people can eat, but the budget disappeared so there was no more hands-on. So what happened was, they held a dinner and we brought people from camp to eat and they paid for their meal. The first dinner raised $670 for the school,” Vergara said. “They host the dinner once a month, but we’re hoping to do it every three weeks. The money also allowed the staff to buy the students new uniforms, in different colors depending on what they’re studying.”

Ultimately, what the civil affairs team does in places like this school is provide the tools and resources needed to build brighter futures in Djibouti.

 “My favorite part about teaching is that I like to help the students. I like teaching because I am working toward the future of the country. I’m thinking of the future,” said Mouktar Hassan Bouh, Lycee Hotelier d’Arta resident English teacher.

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