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Constructive Learning in Sri Lanka

Engineering student volunteers from Abu Dhabi work with Habitat for Humanity to build community center in Negombo


nyuad_april2013_web.jpgThe student volunteers were able to apply their skills in a real-life setting.

NEGOMBO, Sri Lanka (April 17, 2013) – Practical learning took centerstage when engineering students from the New York University of Abu Dhabi volunteered with Habitat for Humanity in western Sri Lanka.

There was plenty of hands-on experience when the 48 volunteers spent five days working on a community center in Pattayamwatte village, Negombo.

The site was the location of last August’s “Rebuild Sri Lanka”. The special build saw 150 international volunteers constructing 24 decent homes with low-income families over five days.

From March 23 to 27, the volunteers moved bricks, sifted sand, mixed mortar and built walls with interlocking bricks. The villagers chipped in by taking on some construction tasks.

Farah Shammout, a Jordanian student at NYUAD, said: “I love the environment and the teamwork, especially with the villagers! Also, working with our deans here gives me the sense that we are all equal and working toward the same goal. It’s wonderful!”

Katerina Grim, the associate dean for global education at NYUAD, said: “For a first-time NYUAD build, it was a great success!”

Philip Koshy Panicker, a senior engineering lecturer at NYUAD, appreciated the opportunity of collaborating with Habitat. The university’s “Engineers for Social Impact” program allows students to work with NGOs overseas and apply their skills in real-life situations.

“We want them to be encouraged and challenged by what they have experienced, 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!” Panicker said.

During the build, architect Amila De Mel explained the purpose of the community center while Dr. Asoka Perera, from the University of Moratuwa in Sri Lanka, touched on the kinds of construction materials used.

HFH Sri Lanka staff member, Justus Gregory, also demonstrated how a simple, low-cost solar cooker can be assembled quickly and used to cook food using the sun’s rays. Free from having to watch the stove, women can devote more time to caring for their children and other household chores, or even a home-based business.

In addition, HFH Sri Lanka’s national director Tony Senewiratne talked to the student volunteers about sustainable housing designs and encouraged them to come up with cost-effective housing solutions for communities in need.

Brenda Odhingo, a Kenyan studying civil engineering, said: “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.”

Not all the work on the community center could be completed as heavy rains disrupted the construction schedule. That did not dampen the excitement of Habitat home partner W. A. Mallika Malani. “Finally we have a building in the community to be used as an educational center. We hope to start a pre-school for the little ones; and after-school classes for our O-level students. We would also like to start a library and have self-development meetings,” said Mallika. She smiled and said: “I am so happy now that we also have a place to hold our parties and festivals.”

On February 4, Sri Lanka’s Independence Day, the villagers were given free medical consultations in a clinic organized by Leo Club of Negombo and Lions Club. Funded by Leo Club, medicine was dispensed after consultation with doctors and in early March, prescription glasses were sent to the villagers who were seen by an eye specialist during the clinic.

Habitat for Humanity began operating in Sri Lanka in 1994. Through Habitat Resource Centers, HFH Sri Lanka works with families to build decent homes. To date, Habitat has served more than 19,000 families in the country. HFH Sri Lanka also responds to disasters such as the flooding in end of 2011 and the 2004 Asian tsunami.

Check out HFH Sri Lanka’s website or connect on Facebook.