Failure did not stop her from completing her Youth Expedition Project

When the equipment for their overseas service-learning project didn't arrive on time, Gayathri's team gave out of their own pockets to complete their mission.

Yasira Hannan

Published: 16 May 2018, 12:42 PM

They were supposed to be installing solar panels in a community hall in Nias, an electricity-deprived island in Indonesia.

However, a week into the volunteer trip last June, Gayathri Narkunan and her team realised that the equipment for their project faced problems clearing customs and would not arrive on time.

“We had two weeks there and we rescheduled everything, hoping that the solar panels would come. We did whatever we could: repaired the ceiling, cleaned the toilets of a local school, lay the foundation…but the solar panels didn’t come,” the 24-year-old Nanyang Technological University (NTU) undergraduate said.

The team sealing gaps in the ceiling of a local school to prevent water leakage while awaiting the arrival of the solar panels. PHOTO CREDIT: GAYATHRI NARKUNAN

While Gayathri was no stranger to volunteer trips, this was her first time leading an Overseas Community Involvement Project (OCIP). And as this trip was the first of its kind ever organised by NTU’s Electrical and Electronic Engineering (EEE) faculty since its opening in 1981, the pressure placed on the young leader was immense.

“I was afraid that I was going to disappoint my team,” said Gayathri.

Gayathri scooping dirty water from a well, a main source of water for the village. PHOTO CREDIT: GAYATHRI NARKUNAN

Before this project, the Nias locals had been requesting for help for several years. As the island is often hit by natural disasters, they face frequent blackouts after major rainfall.

After raising support from fundraising events and sponsors like the National Youth Council’s Youth Corps Singapore, the group of 16 undergraduate volunteers set out to restore electricity to the community hall that locals relied on for their daily activities and learning needs.

Gayathri named her team as one of her biggest motivators: “All our goals were aligned. So instead of one person pushing for the project, I had 16 times the power.” PHOTO CREDIT: GAYATHRI NARKUNAN

Unfortunately, the team was forced to return home after two weeks, without accomplishing their mission, as their equipment was still stuck at the Indonesian customs.

“We felt very horrible,” Gayathri said, “but the amount of trust the locals had in us and the friendships made kept us motivated.

“One of the locals told me: ‘Don’t worry, if it’s something for good, it will happen.'”

Despite failing to complete their project initially, Gayathri and her team were determined to complete what they started. Once they found out that the solar panels had finally arrived, they pooled money together and flew back to the island that very weekend to finish what they started.

Having prepared all the groundwork in the previous trip, the team was able to install the solar panels in just two days. PHOTO CREDIT: GAYATHRI NARKUNAN

Gayathri said with a wide smile on her face: “I felt very good, as a leader, when a good eight people were willing to go back a second time, and willing to use their own pocket money.

“The amount of happiness and the smiles on their faces made it meaningful. It reflects the impact of our work and how much it was appreciated by them.”

Giving back to the community might have been tough, but Gayathri gained new friendships in the process. PHOTO CREDIT: GAYATHRI NARKUNAN

Despite the many obstacles and challenges, Gayathri found the project extremely rewarding.

The bubbly undergraduate said: “Don’t give up. No matter what, there is always a way through, so you just have to keep going. Eventually, there will be a solution and it will come to you.

“A lot of people tell me that after the trip, something changed in me and personally, I think it’s the fighting spirit.”

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