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Planning the Future: Building a community center in Hut Bay, India

By Lauren Murrow, courtesy of Abroad View

A senior architecture major at Stanford, Lauren Schneider organized a group of engineers who traveled to India to help rebuild after the tsunami.

In mid-October, California-native Lauren Schneider received a letter of thanks from the residents of Hut Bay, India. Enclosed was a photograph of their new community center, which she had designed and helped construct less than three months before. "Just reading those words of thanks and seeing the picture of the center affected me more than I thought it would," she says.

When the tsunami hit Southeast Asia in December 2004, it devastated the Andaman Islands and the town of Hut Bay, killing 150 and leaving 10,000 of its 12,000 residents homeless. Schneider, a senior majoring in architectural design at Stanford University, organized a student-run group called Engineers for a Sustainable World. For six weeks, the students worked with the Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society (SEEDS) in India to help rebuild the community.

In the wake of the tsunami, the residents of Hut Bay resided in 350 temporary housing units, with up to six family members living in a space the size of a college dorm room. Schneider was surprised by how immediately she was welcomed by the locals.

"The people were always so interested in us," she says. "Even though we couldn?t fully communicate with them, the families would invite us into their homes for chai. We drank about 10 cups of tea a day."

Through a translator, Schneider asked the people of Hut Bay what she could do to enhance the quality of life on the island. "In the temporary housing, they said they didn't have any space to entertain friends, perform, or to have meetings," she says.

With funding from SEEDS, Schneider drew up plans and met with local contractors to begin building a community center--a large gazebo space with a platform for performances and smaller rooms leading off it where the residents could meet with friends.

Back at Stanford, Schneider is energized by her eye-opening experience in India. "It's so rewarding to see this building built exactly how I imagined it," she says. After seeing the photograph of her design realized, she says she is inspired to undertake more development projects in places that are often overlooked by the wider world. "I envisioned a design, organized its construction, and I made a real difference in the lives of these people," she says.

The Abroad View Foundation is an international education organization that fosters global awareness and cross-cultural understanding among study abroad students and international students.

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