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NTU EEE Overseas Community Improvement project trip

​​​Every year, NTU EEE organises an Overseas Community Improvement project trip to various countries in the ASEAN region. Through these expeditions, EEE students are allowed a window into the life of others and are provided with an opportunity to do something constructive for the society during their semester breaks. Back in July 2019, 21 EEE students including Kavya Aggarwal travelled to Phong Thanh Community Volunteering Centre at Tra Vinh Province, Vietnam. The trip served a dual objective of carrying repair work in the community centre playground and inculcating interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) education through daily lessons. 
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The trip had served a dual objective. Firstly, it was to revamp the play area within community centre for use of village children and secondly, it was to develop an interest in STEM and academics through fun activities for primary and middle school students. Half of the team was responsible for carrying repair works in the playground area. That included replacing old swings and painting newly installed swings. The other half conducted classes for the village students. In the morning sessions, activities were conducted for primary school students and they were taught to make toys such as handfan, kaleidoscopes. 

In the afternoons, Arduino learning sessions were held for middle school students. They were assisted in DIY projects like Arduino pianos and Bluetooth operated cars. Kavya recalls the first day fondly. "The place was foreign and in those initial moments, their tasks seems daunting and impossible. But all of us were motivated and soon settled in and started preparing for the work that lay ahead. The playground repair team along with accompanying NTU EEE staff member Mr Thomas Foo Mong Keow immediately got to inspecting the swings, checking its quality and taking the necessary measurements. The rest of us busied ourselves in cleaning the multi-purpose hall and readying the place for morning lessons scheduled for the next day." 
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For Kavya, being the only person of Indian origin in a group of predominantly Chinese-speaking students made her experience even more meaningful, as she was able to gain the most from interacting with her fellow peers and the people living in Vietnam. Not only was she immersing herself in Vietnamese culture as she interacted with local volunteers and chatted with the school children, but she was also learning more about the culture of her Chinese friends. In fact, it was during one of their group lunches that her friends trained her in using chopsticks (she has now graduated to intermediate level in chopstick use) This experience also helped bridge cultural boundaries and helped her better explain Indian trivia to her peers! 

For instance, they assumed that she was fluent in Tamil given that she hailed from India. However, she shared that Tamil is only one of the 22 official languages recognised in the Constitution of India and that she’s as unfamiliar with Tamil as the other participants! Although the community centre provided the students access to laptops, they weren’t as well-versed in using electronic programs like Arduino, a software platform for creating electronic projects. During this trip, the students helped familiarise them with the use of Arduino and used basic components like LEDs, motor, resistors, buzzer and plastic buttons to develop our own small pianos, table lamps and moving toy cars. These daily sessions were a learning opportunity for the OCIP students as well. While they guided the Vietnamese students as they navigated through the code, the EEE students got to know more about Vietnamese culture and education. 

These sessions helped the EEE students realise that delivering instructions and teaching is not as straightforward as it seems to look. It requires immense patience to help someone understand an alien concept. But when they do, it makes for a rewarding experience. The days were enriched with cultural and educational learning, not only for the children, but for all participants. However, the two weeks in the volunteering centre had its own fair share of challenges. The repair team faced heavy rainfalls which delayed the progress of the repair work, while the STEM team faced a language barrier as they attempted to engage with students who knew little English. There were also minor inconveniences they faced on a daily basis – such as braving mosquitoes while getting dinner, or having to wait for the water supply after a long day. 
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However, an open mind, patience and teamwork got them through it all. The expedition would not have been possible without the tireless work of the entire team. However, a special mention is reserved for OCIP Co-Chairs Ooi Ching Hui, an EEE alumnus and Hsieh Chiayen, a fourth-year IEM student, who assembled the team from scratch, and worked round the clock to perfect the programme. When asked what motivated Hsieh to take up such a challenging task, she said: “I wanted to try explore something different and meaningful, and step out of my comfort zone. 

(The OCIP experience) was fulfilling and allowed me to get to know myself and my team members better.” The team would not have been able to turn the plans into solid reality had it not been for the staff members Ms Rachel Fong and Mr Thomas Foo Mong Keow. The entire trip would also not have been possible if not for Ms Maria Thêu Pham, the head of Phong Thanh Community Volunteering Centre and her team of local volunteers who helped them communicate with the locals and worked round the clock to make sure the student's stay was pleasant. There are some experiences that are truly unique and memorable. Kavya feels blessed to be part of something so fulfilling within the first year of her university life. She’s looking forward to more of such expeditions that celebrate diversity, foster community development and bring about tangible societal changes! 
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Source credit – Kavya Aggarwal and U-insight (An NTUSU Publication)

Published on 3 April 2020
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