On the 12th of June, 22 intrepid undergraduates from Earthlink NTU’s Ecoventure team embarked on a 15-day expedition to the Laotian village of Ban Hua Hin.  It is one of the 8 rural villages along the Nam Khan River in Oudomxay province, Nga district, where access to electricity is not easily available. One of the aims of this expedition was to install a solar panel system along with electrical lights and fans in the village’s primary school to improve the quality of education for the village children.

The solar panel system will provide sufficient electricity to power the lights and fans in the 3 classrooms of the village school, which can hold a total of 72 students. Electric fans will make for better learning conditions for the local children as the classrooms can become unbearably hot during dry seasons, while electrical lighting will provide the school more opportunities to prepare the students for secondary school, in the form of evening classes that could be held for students who require more help academically. That aside, the school also serves as a community centre, where the villagers host numerous gatherings, cultural ceremonies and social events.

This expedition is a part of Earthlink’s sustained effort to introduce renewable energy to rural communities in Laos. Since 2014, several Ecoventure teams had been installing solar panel systems in the villages located in the same cluster along the Nam Khan River; Ecoventure 2014 installed a solar panel system in Ban Lad Khammune, and Ecoventure 2015 did the same for the Ban Phongsavanh. However, in addition to the installation of solar panel and electrical systems in Ban Hua Hin, the Ecoventure 2016 team also visited the previous villages in order to perform maintenance on their solar panel systems and to maintain close ties with the villagers.

Apart from the installation of the solar panel and electrical systems, members of the Ecoventure team also conducted classes in English, Science and Environmental Awareness for the local children. They were surprised by the enthusiasm of the children, who would quickly fill up the classrooms whenever the team conducted lessons. Despite the language barrier, the kids listened intently to the team during lessons, and completed their handouts eagerly. Of course, learning isn’t a one-way process, and the children managed to teach the team a few things of their own: members of the team were able to pick up a few words and phrases in Khmu (a local dialect) from the children as some of the kids could speak it.

Through this expedition, the team experienced many aspects of living in a village –Ban Hua Hin had no electricity before the solar panels were installed, so the nights were almost pitch black. In addition, they also had to cope with the lack of running tap water, and had to make do with limited amounts of water every day. However, team members learnt to appreciate simpler things: when asked about the most memorable experience during the event, Andrian found the experience of bathing in the Nam Khan River more interesting than the installation work of the electrical systems. On the other hand, Kang Pyo fondly recalled the kindness and innocence of the village children. When he had first arrived in the village, he couldn’t communicate with the locals at all; but whenever he smiled and waved at the children, they would smile back despite the fact that he was a total stranger.

As their time at Ban Hua Hin came to an end, the team found themselves strangely unwilling to leave. Returning to Singapore, members of the team didn’t just bring home a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, but also precious memories of their time in the village, and a newfound appreciation for the urban comforts that we usually take for granted. To everyone in the Ecoventure team, the whole experience was surely, as Andrian so aptly summarized in a single word, “unforgettable”.

We would like to thank Maybank, City Developments Limited, PacificLight, and Lao Asia-Pacific Brewery for their sponsorship, as well as our other partners for their assistance – this trip would not have been successful without their help.

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