Students give Laos village gift of fresh water

NTU students digging a 2.5km-long trench to aid in the delivery of water in Na Phong village in Vientiane, Laos.

LAOS - More than 400 villagers in a remote area of Laos will no longer have to trudge up a mountain to get fresh water, thanks to the efforts of a group of young Singaporeans.

The Nanyang Technological University (NTU) students spent six months building pipes, trenches and tanks to deliver water about 2.5km from a mountain stream to the Na Phong village in Vientiane province.

The project began last December as part of the school's Overseas Exposure Programme and was completed earlier this month.

At a ceremony recently to hand over the system in the village, its 46-year-old chief Phaithoon Hanvilat said the readily available water would improve the residents' lives and help them grow their crops.

He said: "Sometimes during the dry season from March to June, we would get a bad harvest for the year and there was nothing much we could do about it.

"The joy we experienced when this project was confirmed is beyond words."

More than 130 NTU students travelled to Laos in groups for several weeks at a time and slept on mattresses in the villagers' homes.

Civil engineering student Jeremy Su, 23, said: "It was like a homestay. All of the meals were in the village too."

He added that besides laying pipes and building a tank to store the water, the volunteers taught a few English lessons and helped out in the rice plantations.

"We learnt about the villagers' different lifestyle and culture, and the trip also made us more appreciative of Singapore," he said.

Singapore's Ambassador to Laos, Ms Kang Siew Kheng, said at the ceremony that the two countries have an "excellent" relationship at the government and community level.

About 50 Singapore student groups and community associations visit Laos each year to volunteer in various projects, she added.

Separately, the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) signed a three-year partnership with the non-profit Singapore International Foundation last week to help provide clean water to remote villages in Cambodia.

The students will volunteer in the villages, build bio-sand filters to clean water, and test an ITE-designed device to remove arsenic ions from contaminated water sources.

In future, nursing students from the institute will also conduct feminine hygiene workshops for female villagers under the partnership.

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