Communities and Engagement

Project Ponggang: Finding joy in the hardest of circumstances ​

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13 October 2020

Project Ponggang was formed under the NUS Seeds of Good Programme (SOGP) to “apply our knowledge in real-life community projects and bring meaningful impact to the community”. The project hopes to alleviate the financial burdens of villagers in Ponggang Village, Java, Indonesia by building biodigesters instead of purchasing cooking fuel from the city. All that were required - a constant supply of food waste, plant material and cow faeces, which were an abundance in this farming community.

After months of preparation, our team of 10 undergraduates left for Indonesia on 1 July 2018 and spent 14 days there. We drilled, cemented, and dug through mountains of cow faeces to install the 2000-litre tanks. Needless to say, we had the unique experience of being in a “poop hole”. Every single day, we ate our rice with tahu, tempeh, and timun (Bahasa Indonesia for tofu, fermented soybean, and cucumber) that were served to us and we even had a hand in classroom management teaching English Language.

As we immersed ourselves in their way of life, a few lasting impressions were definitely made. Notably, despite the lack of engineering expertise, it was interesting to see how the villagers worked with great ingenuity and teamwork, successfully constructing the biodigesters faster than expected. Also, despite having only simple and limited ingredients, the village mothers prepared every meal with so much love that everyone ate to their fill and never went hungry. Even with the language barriers, the children were not shy or apprehensive to try new things.

Despite their living circumstances, there was never short of joy and laughter. As the team leader of this project, I was humbled by the experience. Although we come from a well-provisioned country like Singapore, we are lacking in so many areas – one of which is definitely the waterfall the villagers have private access to!

201015-OSAY-waterfallThe generosity of the Ponggang villagers – they shared a private waterfall that only villagers have access to with the NUS project team.

Beyond that was the sense of self, gratitude and grit we saw in the villagers. Although they had very few material things, they were generous, resourceful and content. This is what Project Ponggang means to me – a reflective journey about finding the little giggly joys in perhaps the hardest of circumstances.

When COVID pandemic ends, I would strongly encourage NUS students to try their hand at a project like this. NUS and its various student organisations offer a wide selection of locally and overseas volunteering opportunities.

Inspired by Project Ponggang? Find out how you can make an impact in our local communities. Read more.


Writer: Elisha Lee Jian Xin
Programme Head, Project Ponggang, AY2018/19
Year 3, Faculty of Engineering