SAN ANTONIO, Republic of the Philippines - Sailors assigned to Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) Eleven along with sailors from the Armed Forces of the Philippines participated in a friendship building project at San Esteban Elementary School Oct. 14 in an effort to improve intercultural relations between the United States and the Philippines.

Approximately 25 Sailors arrived at the school and received a warm welcome from the school’s 160 students and seven teachers.

“I feel very grateful and blessed that the U.S. and Philippine Navies came here to help support our school,” said Lila B. Fabunan, the school’s principal. “We will take good care and make good use of the donated equipment.”

The Sailors donated educational and recreational equipment to the school and spent most of the afternoon playing basketball, softball, and volleyball with the students.

“This is a good start to the Amphibious Landing Exercise,” said Ens. Crispin L. Crystal of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. “The purpose of this exercise is to integrate with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps for the benefit of our two countries. Today was a good example of our efforts.”

The day began with musical performances by each grade including a traditional La Sota Cabargo folk dance.

“It’s like a family reunion with family you didn’t know you had,” said Johnson. “There is joy, excitement, and an overall energy that only comes when family gets together. Any Sailor that is a part of this will remember this for the rest of their life. I hope the students and faculty members will remember as fondly as we do.”

“The students had such a great time performing for the U.S. and Philippine Navies,” said Fabunan. “We only had a few days notice to prepare and the students spent a long time practicing their dances and their instruments.”

After the musical performances, everyone had the chance to enjoy some traditional Philippine food before beginning the sporting events.

“I had so much fun playing with the Navy today,” said Darren Escobar, a 1st grade San Esteban Elementary School student. “I played baseball and volleyball and played my drum in the band today. I hope the Navy comes back.”

The event culminated with the official presentation of donations and a plaque from Capt. Bradley Lee, Deputy Commodore of Amphibious Squadron Eleven.

“I was born in the Philippines, so it is even more of an honor to come out and give back to these smaller communities,” said Chief Information Systems Technician Nina Palsis, a friendship building project planner. “The students and staff of San Esteban Elementary were extremely hospitable and I hope that Sailors can return there in the future.”

PHIBRON 11 is embarked aboard the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) and is in command of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG). Essex ARG began the bilateral training evolution PHIBLEX 2011 Oct. 14 and upon its completion, will continue its patrol of the Western Pacific.