Loose, crimson soil softly shifted under U.S. Navy Lt. Sarah Chavez’s feet. The Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) construction project manager keenly studied the crater outside Dar El Hanan Hospital in Djibouti City. As a construction team worked the dirt -- hastily shoveling and hoisting -- boisterous bilingual dialogue dissolved into the silty western winds.
But Chavez didn’t seem to notice the elements swirling around her. Her gaze fixated on the ground, she broke her stare only to confer with a stack of plans and specifications -- she had a job to do. Chavez, a construction project manager with the CJTF-HOA Logistics Directorate, is invested in the success of this project that the Djiboutian construction team is working on.
This is just one of several similar Humanitarian Assistance and Humanitarian Civic Assistance (HA/HCA) construction projects throughout the small, East African country of Djibouti. In 2013, CJTF-HOA began working in quality assurance with the Africa First Initiative, a program that contracts local labor to help enable sustainable economics, on approximately 10 large-scale construction and renovation projects throughout the region. The final project is estimated for completion in 2019. The sites include hospitals, primary schools, medical clinics and intermediate schools. The projects, spreading across eight cities, are part of the HA/HCA program handled by CJTF-HOA in Djibouti.
“We get annual requests for projects working with the U.S. Embassy and the country of Djibouti for HA/HCA project nominations,” said Chavez. She continued by saying that CJTF-HOA partners with Djibouti Ministers of Health, Education and Agriculture.
While the construction’s end products will serve CJTF-HOA’s purpose of supporting partner nations like Djibouti, ultimately aiding in regional stability and prosperity, employing local labor supports that goal -- here and now.
“I am very happy to have this job; it is a very great job,” said Omar Djama Ali, a contractor currently working on a school in Yoboki, Djibouti, to create a dormitory, washroom and cantina. “We have everything we need to do the job and are grateful for this.”
“Because of the U.S. government, the nomad children who come to this school will now have the chance to live here and eat here while they go to school, “ he said. “It is a good thing for our children.”
Africa First Initiative, formally known locally as Djibouti First, and the CJTF-HOA engineers help create a construct where local skilled tradesmen work with general laborers. The capable workers teach a practical trade, while local Djiboutians are provided an opportunity to earn a livelihood and contribute to the neighborhoods in which they live.
“There are no trade unions or trade schools here,” said Chavez. “The more education the local worker has, the better. For example, we’ve seen new workers arrive in flip-flops, because that’s what they always wear. So, they’re truly learning the basics – like what to wear to a site – from the experienced laborers.”
Chavez added, “Their hearts are definitely in the work.”
The projects are dually beneficial; both the Djiboutian communities and CJTF-HOA gain from the partnership.
According to Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Bylsma, HA/HCA program manager for CJTF-HOA, all assignments are routed through U.S. Africa Command to ensure that they meet specific lines of effort. In the region of East Africa, the CJTF-HOA mission is primarily to counter violent extremist organizations.
“Although humanitarian support here is imperative, we’re responsible for ensuring each project is relevant to the big picture, the mission, “ said Bylsma. “We ensure our partnerships stay strong, and this is one approach.
Check out the video report done by SrA Ryan McDivitt by going to: http://www.hoa.africom.mil/video/21142/cjtf-hoa-engineers-verify-quality-and-care-with-africa-first-initiative-in-djibouti
Once the requests are submitted, they are reviewed by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and Naval Facilities Engineering Command Europe Africa Southwest Asia. If the estimated cost of the project is deemed less than $15,000, AFRICOM can serve as the final approval authority. Jobs projected more than that amount must be approved at a higher level. Local companies seeking to do business with CJTF-HOA, in Djibouti, or throughout the CJTF-HOA area of responsibility, should email: CJTF-HOACCO@usa.com or go to https://www.facebook.com/cjtfhoa.cco.7