As they enter the Indian village of Nandgaon, volunteers see women washing their bright saris in a nearby stream and men driving wagons pulled by cattle. Children, playing drums, lead the visitors to their worksites. Community leaders drape handmade flower necklaces around the necks of each guest. Two mothers delicately dip their fingertips into neat piles of red vermilion powder, then gently press the mix upon the forehead of each young student, leaving a traditional bindi in place as a welcome.
For the next week, these Singaporean students from the Habitat campus chapter at Singapore Management University will work alongside a pair of Indian families to mix mortar and stack bricks for two new houses. Still, Edward Poa — the volunteer team's leader — says that the community's warm embrace signals one truth quite clearly: "We went to India to build a house, but realized we were the ones that were built up instead."