NTU students build hall in Laos village

The Na Phong-NTU Singapore Friendship Hall, built by 161 students, will serve as a central venue for more than 400 villagers in Na Phong village.
The Na Phong-NTU Singapore Friendship Hall, built by 161 students, will serve as a central venue for more than 400 villagers in Na Phong village.PHOTO: NTU

Brick by brick, batches of students from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have steadily built a sizeable multi-purpose hall in a rural farming village in Laos. 

It took two years and 161 students, who would spend two weeks at a time during their school holidays, to complete the 330sq m hall.

Roughly the size of four four-room Housing Board flats, the single-storey hall in Na Phong village is more than two hours' drive from the Laotian capital Vientiane.

The  Na Phong-NTU Singapore Friendship Hall  features a stage and an administration office and is fitted with lights and fans.

Costing about $40,000 to build and paid for by NTU, the hall will be used for village activities such as ceremonies, school exams and weddings. Previously, these activities were held in makeshift tents, run-down schools and even at the village chief's own home.

Among those who lent a hand is third-year communication studies undergraduate Lau Chong Wai, who has made two trips to the village in the last two years.

"They do not have heavy machinery, so we had to rely on simple tools," said Mr Lau, 24. "It is quite a humbling experience."

Students had to, among other things, dig trenches, install structural supports as well as electrical wiring for fixtures.

Today, the hall  will be handed over to the villagers in a ceremony at the village of 456 residents.

It is the largest facility built by the students for the village. The three other projects they have completed are a primary school, clean water distribution infrastructure and sanitation infrastructure.

Since 2012, the university has been working with the village to bring about sustainable change via its Overseas Exposure Programme.

In return, the villagers hosted the students in their homes and prepared their daily meals.

The students also experienced the simple life - planting rice, harvesting tapioca and showering with cold water.

Second-year materials science and engineering student Adeline Ho, 21, said: "Our intention over there was to help, but we've received more than we gave.

"We've learnt to step out of our comfort zones and experience life away from home."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2015, with the headline 'NTU students build hall in Laos village'. Print Edition | Subscribe