New home for Central family
By ANGELA PIDDUCK Sunday, July 15 2012
A family of five (grandmother, mother and three children) is the appreciative recipient of a new home at Pepper Village, Gran Couva, following the North Hall Student Development Centre’s annual “You Can Help” vacation initiative.
Seven years ago, the Deane Street, St Augustine-based North Hall Study Centre, an all-male institution where students are helped to excel, started a project to channel the youthful energy of restless young people during the mid-year vacation into meaningful activity, benefitting both the volunteers and the recipients. It was so successful that one student said the best thing he had done all vacation was helping a needy family, and such was the genesis of the “You Can Help” initiative.
What started in Gran Couva in 2005, has since developed into building a simple home for a family each mid-year vacation period, with donors providing the materials and students providing the labour — the inexperience is made up for by enthusiasm. The annual project has continued from St Augustine (2006/2007), Caura (2008), Tunapuna (2009/2010) to Gran Couva (2011/2012).
The Pepper Village project, which ended on July 7, started with partial repairs to the dilapidated house. The main work was the addition of a new area, which is solid, stable, level and waterproof. A total of 350 hours of work, volunteered by 45 students, combined with the generosity of North Hall benefactors, made a success of “You Can Help 2012.” And the Sankarsingh family in Gran Couva is extremely grateful and encouraged by this support, as with a new home they now have the hope of getting an electrical supply by the end of August, all of which will radically change their living standards.
In keeping with the North Hall motto, “Sometimes you see people in need and would like to help, here’s your chance”, the students enjoyed the opportunity to help a family in need.
Said North Hall Director, Erik Feely,“They learned a lot of manual skills in the experience and many stated that they never dreamed that they could actually build a home. Our hope is that they are now more sensitised to the need for social solidarity, thus leading to the better Trinidad and Tobago which we all desire for the future.”
After Gran Couva in 2005, university students very quickly got involved and there was never a need for much promotion. Said the director,“The average attendance is over 60 students per construction and we have fine-tuned the process into weekly goals to ensure a feasible time frame. The plan is Saturdays from 10 am-2 pm, which fits in with mid-year vacation employment and other weekend engagements.
“For the students it is an occasion for personal growth; for example taking care of details in each stage has enormous repercussions for the following stages, a tiny error at the start becomes a major problem later. There are also constant possibilities for acts of service, like making sure everybody has enough water to drink, passing the correct tools et cetera. Needless to say, good humour is the order of the day and on occasions the families have commented on being really impressed and encouraged by the spirit of the group.
“We organise the work in teams with a leader who coordinates the work and those coming for the first time gradually learn from the veterans, giving plenty of opportunities for solidarity and patience. Normally, students have little manual ability and for many it has been an eye opener that they can actually do small repairs at their own homes. For some it is the first time they do physical work and we need to rotate their tasks so they don’t get too exhausted.” But the students’ good will is not restricted to only TT. After the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the students also felt the need to do something immediately and organised food collections which were sent with the international agencies.
North Hall was already in the planning stages of the mid-year project but felt sure that Haiti needed homes more than anyone else. What resulted was the students taking their initiative to Haiti.
“It was not easy to coordinate due to the confusion after the earthquake, but we persevered and finally had a work camp in Port au Prince in August,” said Feely.
“We slept in tents as accommodation was impossible to find. Painting, repairing school rooms and organising an art activity for primary school children were the principal tasks carried out. At the end we brought the children’s drawings to Trinidad and held an art exhibition in aid of La Madeleine Orphanage. People reacted very well and we were able to make a good donation to the cause. All things considered it was a very moving experience and the North Hall students were deeply appreciative.”
This year marks the seventh anniversary of the initiative, which has now become institutionalised as an annual part of North Hall’s activities. Each year the project ends with a bar-b-que and an award ceremony, at which photos of the construction of the home are displayed.
Proposals for projects in the following year are viewed and all participants are encouraged to maintain their commitment towards making Trinidad and Tobago a better place. Located just north of the university, in a beautiful old bungalow-type house, North Hall is an initiative of the Caribbean Educational Association, a local non-profit association formed by a group of professional men genuinely interested in helping others to improve their attitude towards work and their fellowmen.