|New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) Build.|
"Build a community centre in 5 days? – Daunting!" was the first reaction of many of the 48 international students from the New York University of Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) who landed in Sri Lanka on the 22nd of March, 2013. Daunting, it seemed at first, but not impossible, as it was proved.
Engineers for Social Impact
Under the "Engineers for Social Impact" program at NYUAD, these students from the Engineering Faculty (and who originate from all parts of the world), accompanied by 6 staff members decided to donate, volunteer their time and labor, and travel to Sri Lanka from Abu Dhabi to build a community centre for 24 underprivileged families living in Pattayam watte village, Negombo. These families are part of a special project called 'Rebuild Sri Lanka' that saw over 150 International volunteers coming together with local volunteers to build their homes in August, 2012.
On arrival to the build site, the volunteers were warmly welcomed by the homeowners, with garlands and grateful smiles.This was later followed by a traditional Sri Lanka welcome ceremony which involved the lighting of the oil lamp and national treats. A highlight of the ceremony was when a home owner's child performed a traditional dance invoking blessings. Nayef Saeed, a student from UAE later commented "The welcome of the homeowners was quite surprising and very touching. I was not expecting anyone to be waiting for us and it suddenly hit me that I will not be just assisting to make a building, but a place where these people will meet and have activities. The building suddenly became more than just brick and mortar for me."
Building commenced the following day with the volunteers mixing mortar, laying bricks etc. Work was divided into small teams of different tasks and these teams were rotated so that everyone got a chance to experience everything. Although the weather was unforgivingly hot, the volunteers got into a good tempo and worked diligently. On the build, Ming- zhu Hou, a student from China said "It's really fun, and I feel like I am doing something with my own hands – I love it"
Walls get higher
By mid-week, the results of the build were becoming visible, as the walls got higher and the building began to take shape.
A little learning every day
Over the week, it's imperative to note that Habitat Sri Lanka organized small tutorials for the future Engineers to assist them in understanding the sustainable methods that were used in the build, as well as some of the environmental initiatives that Habitat is implementing. The architect of the community centre Ms. Amila De Mel presented to the group a comprehensive presentation describing the purposeful design of the building, while Dr. Asoka Perera, from the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka talked on the building materials that were being used for this particular project. Mr. Justus Gregory, Habitat's HRC East Coordinator demonstrated the Solar Cooker and all the volunteers had a chance to try out Solar Cooked food.As the students had a design assignment to do at the end of the program, Habitat's National Director gave a talk on sustainable designs and why it was important for engineers to come up with new cost effective methods to build houses for the under served communities. Brenda Odhingo, a civil engineering student from Kenya commented "Working on this build site for 8 hrs a day has made me better understand about building materials and construction. It has been extremely interesting to know how different materials work in different places for example, what might work in Abu Dhabi, might not work in Sri Lanka. I can better relate to what I am studying now."
Hope for the community
Watching the community centre come up while assisting the volunteers, W. A. Mallika Malani a homeowner, was very excited.She said, "Finally we have a building in the community to use as an educational centre. We hope to start a pre-school for the littlest ones and also after school classes for our O level students. We would also like to start a library and have self-development meetings." Smilingly she added "I am so happy that we also now have a place to hold our parties and festivals."
All good things come to an end
5 days flew by and all but a few roofing sheets were complete by the time the build came to an end. Heavy rain on two days had halted building, rendering the slight incompletion. Despite this, everyone was ecstatic to see the end result! Asked if the build was a success, Mrs. Katerina Grim, the Associated Dean for Global Education said "Definitely! For a first time NYUAD build, it was a great success!" Mr. Philip Koshy Panicker a Senior Lecturer in Engineering at NYUAD also added "The Engineers for Social Impact program was established so that the students could get a chance to work at NGO's overseas and apply their engineering skills to benefit the lower bracket of the social pyramid while getting hands-on experience. We want them to be encouraged and challenged by what they experience, and to come up with innovative and sustainable solutions in a field designed lab. Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka gave us the perfect opportunity to achieve this and we are extremely grateful!"