Gayathri Narkunan, 28, is the leader of the Youth Expedition Project (YEP) in Nias, an initiative of NTU Electrical and Electronic Engineering Club. The YEP Nias team’s initial aim was to install solar panels at a disaster-prone area on Nias Island, located off the western coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. However, the solar panels failed to arrive on time for their project deadlines.

Determined and inspired by the locals, the team self-funded their trip back to Nias to complete their project later on. Today Gayathri shares some lessons she has learnt along the way!

If you really want something, just go for it

YEP Nias was initially put on indefinite hold due to its projected costs. When my team and I inherited the project from the previous team, we challenged ourselves to find a way to make it work. We executed five fundraisers, which was used to  finance project costs as well as cover the $5,000 debt left by the previous team.

Embrace resistance

Think of a rubber band, the more it’s pulled back the further it’ll get when it’s fired.

From the pre-trip till the day before we departed for Nias, we faced a lot of naysayers who were constantly telling us to give up. However, every time they did, the more we persevered.

“Improvise, adapt, overcome”!

The moment we landed on Nias Island, we realised that the solar panels we had ordered for the project were stuck at customs. From then on, nothing went as planned. Each night was about strategizing and preparing for all possible outcomes. We were even prepared to install the panels overnight should they have arrived on the last day of our trip.

Leaders need to listen

Leadership is not just about telling people to do things but to listen too. I was fortunate to have a team that provided me with different perspectives and ideas on how to maximise our time while waiting for the panels to arrive. With that, we decided to lay the foundation of the panels and set up the fences in preparation for the arrival of the panels even before they had arrived.

It’s the thought that counts

Unfortunately, the panels did not arrive before we had to leave the island. However, the hospitality we received till the last day never changed. I apologised to one of the leaders there, and he assured us that it was the thought that counted and that he knew that our intentions were genuine.

There’s always a solution

When we returned to Singapore, I felt like our project was a failure. However, two days later, we received news that the panels had finally arrived. Immediately, part of the team threw in our pocket money and funded our trip back to Nias to complete the installation of the panels.

Sacrifices are necessary

What surprised me the most were the sacrifices made by the team. While some were unable to return to Nias due to their schedules, the rest of us sacrificed our previous commitments and flew back as soon as possible. Two others took the earliest flight after their reservist duties. and one Muslim teammate spent the long Hari Raya weekend with us at Nias!

Teamwork: One mind, many hands

A team is not just a group of people working together. Instead, it’s about working together towards a common goal. I was blessed to see teamwork at its best. Though everyone contributed in different ways, we were all moving in the same direction to the same destination. Within a few days, we completed the installation.

We receive more than we can give

Most of us have the wrong idea that when we participate in community service, we are “helping” the less fortunate. What we don’t realise is that we are giving them a lot less than we receive from them.

During our Nias project, we were given the opportunity to see life through the lenses of the people living there. We were also taught invaluable life lessons that far outweigh the costs of the solar panels we gave them.

Be thankful

On Nias Island, everything was so simple and basic. Yet, it’s a common sight to see people smiling, celebrating life and being grateful for everything they have. This was a lesson for us to appreciate what we have here in Singapore.

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