KIRITIMATI, Kiribati - With dancing, a giant roast pig, and a tropical island as the backdrop, citizens of Kiritimati (Christmas) Island and U.S. service members celebrated the opening of a new facility to improve health care for pregnant women, newborns and sick babies Jan. 12.

A ribbon cutting ceremony was held for the opening of a 1,900 square foot maternity ward for the islands’ only medical facility that was constructed by Sailors with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11, from Gulfport, Miss. The ward will serve the entire Line Islands archipelago population of roughly 9,000 who previously had only a tiny room, in an already small facility, dedicated to newborn and infant care.

“Our prayers have been answered,” said the Honorable Dr. Kautu Tenaua, Republic of Kiribati’s minister for health and medical services. “&ellips;Until today, there was no maternity ward, just a tiny room&ellips;I have no doubt that the delivery and health care for our pregnant mothers, newborns, and sick babies will improve.”

At the invitation of the Kiribati government, the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) sent 20 Seabees from NMCB 11 to Christmas Island in July 2010. The mission for the mostly junior enlisted team is to conduct humanitarian and civic assistance through engineering and civil construction projects identified by the host nation. These projects provide training to hone construction for the Seabees; as well as, nurture the friendship between the United States and Kiribati.

“It builds our friendship capacity, it builds our relationship, and it gets us the training that we need in different environments,” said Air Force Brig. Gen. Stanley J. Osserman, Jr., Mobilization Assistant to Director of Strategy and Policy, PACOM.

The opportunity to bring Seabees to a tropical climate is a win-win opportunity for the United States and Kiribati. Christmas Island offers a different environment than on the mainland United States, which provides invaluable training for our service members and allows for countries such as Kiribati to benefit as the construction projects improve the lives of the local community, said Osserman.

“Part of what we have done here, thanks to the Seabees, is to help you in your community,” said Osserman, “to build friendships and relationships that are important for our whole region to remain peaceful and stable.”

Over the past eight months NMCB 11 has built various facilities for the islands’ school and medical systems, totaling nearly $1.5 million.

These projects not only provide and contribute to social and economic growth for the Kiribati people, but strengthen diplomatic relations with the U.S. government, said the Honorable Tawita Temoku, Republic of Kiribati’s minister of the Line and Phoenix Islands.

At the Banana Primary School, Seabees built a new five-classroom building that will increase the schools capacity to teach 191 students without overcrowding the classrooms.

“The students are very excited to come back from summer vacation to use the new classrooms,” said Raati Teiwakai, head of the teachers at the Banana Primary School. “Before the Seabees came our school didn’t have bathrooms, now we do.”

The community is grateful for the work the Seabees have done on their island.

“The locals have been very receptive about the work we have done here,” said Chief Steelworker Mike Blackney. “While we were working on classrooms for one of the schools, students would bring us coconuts to drink throughout the day.”

NMCB 11’s nine-month deployment to the island will end in February.

“I know that time is getting narrower for&ellips;our Seabee friends, but the work you have done for our people will remain here as a token, a symbol of good faith&ellips;from your people,” said Temoku.