Young architect shows her love for mountain people

November 26, 2017 - 09:00

Old, makeshift dormitories for ethnic students in the northern mountains were sometimes formed by putting timber panels together. Now the shacks have been replaced with stable buildings, made by solid construction materials - and love. The love comes from  Lê Thu Huyền, 30, the founder of  a four-year-old project called Nabe.Arc (Natural Beauty in Architecture). 


Busy: Besides building schools, domitaries, Nabe.Arc also organises community events for mountain children.
Viet Nam News

Hồng Vân 

Old, makeshift dormitories for ethnic students in the northern mountains were sometimes made by putting timber panels together. Now, these shacks are being replaced with stable buildings, made with solid construction materials - and love. The love comes from Lê Thu Huyền, the founder of  a four-year-old project called Nabe.Arc (Natural Beauty in Architecture). 

The new dormitories are built on the campus of the few schools available, often behind or next to the classrooms. They have bunk beds and kitchens where students living far away can stay free of charge. New schools are also being built by Nabe.Arc.

A vision of using architecture to help poor communities led the young architect and her companions to build and donate homes-away-from-home in the provinces of Lai Châu, Điện Biên and Hà Giang. In the past, ethnic students travelled to schools often far away and then lived in flimsy shacks. 

The building programme has all been done under a project called Nabe.Arc (Natural Beauty in Architecture). It is aimed at building schools, dormitories, libraries and offering vocational training workshops for ethnic students.

Lê Thu Huyền, the 30-year-old architect is founder of the project, which was established in 2013. Now an architect with a passion for meaningful architecture projects in mountain areas, she retains the same concern.

“The idea about Nabe.Arc started from a passion for travel," she said. "When I travelled, I could see the problems some locals were facing in our own country.

"If I can do anything, I will always help. Initially, I focused on raising funds, but then realised this led nowhere. And then I thought of  applying some architecture to rural projects, building infrastructure, for example,” said Huyền.

Stability: Dilapidated old dormitories for ethnic schoolchildren have been replaced by solid, pleasing structures.

When Huyền was at university, like many other students, she loved travelling to mountain provinces, often carrying food and clothes for poor villagers.

Huyền then carried out three programmes aiming to raise funds for the needy in the mountainous provinces.

“It was not as difficult as I expected. Things went smooth. Yet I found that by donating villagers commodities and food, we just solved the problem in the short term,” said Huyền, who was a third-year architecture student at the time.

Huyền then thought of combining architecture and charitable projects and she started researching "Social Architecture", which was quite popular in other countries, but never mentioned at her university. She started learning by herself and eventually produced a graduation thesis on social architecture.

Then, one of her friends told her about the problems in Pa Ủ Commune in Lai Châu. Huyền and her friends started discussing building a dormitary for local students.

Nabe.Arc finished a dormitary for La Hủ ethnic students in Thăm Pa Village in Lai Châu in 2014. One year later, classrooms in Nậm Vì Village for La Hủ and Mông ethnic students were finished. In 2016, a school with six classrooms for Xuồng ethnic students was also opened.

The project also offers training for local volunteers and domitary staff on safety skills, abuse prevention and dormitary management.

Currently, Nabe.Arc, in co-ordination with other charitable projects and organisations, is raising funds to build a boarding school in Ngọc Long Commune. The school comprises a domitary for elementary students, another for secondary students and a creative library for students. The total cost will be VNĐ5 billion (US$220,000), half of which has been raised.

This weekend, the project will organise KHOE Creative Festival in Hà Nội, an event to raise funds for the boarding school project. The event offers festival-goers more than 30 creative outdoor activities for children, including pottery making, traditional paper making, drawing, carpentry and furniture making as well as fashion design and Virtual Reality activities.

Schools: Students at Tàng Sảm school enjoy a new classroom in 2016.
Shacks: The poor condition of an old dormitary. Corrugated iron or canvas was used to to keep out the rain.

Before taking on a project, members often study the locality by staying with the locals. Initially, local authorities are reluctant and doubtful, not knowing what was intended.

Yet Huyền and the project members win friends and have created trust with the locals because the projects have successfully carried out community activities for local children.

“When we first came to the mountains, it was easy to see the good and the bad. But that is just the surface. Spending time with the locals to understand the reasons is more important," Huyền told Việt Nam News. “Only when the pupils’ dormitories are full of vibe and love, will people come to stay,” Huyền said. 

Last year, a six-classroom school was opened in Tàng Sảm Village, Ngọc Long Commune, Hà Giang, where the Xuồng ethnic people live.

“The old school was in severely poor condition. Its walls were made of mud and the roofs leaked when it rained,” Nguyễn Thăng Kiêm, chairman of Ngọc Long Commune’s People’s Committee, said. “The new school, which was put into use in mid 2016, is stable and looks cosy and friendly."

“Two other charity projects had also reached Ngọc Long, but they are mostly business oriented. Money was donated and the local authority did the rest. This time, the architecture group came to the locality, did most of the work, from design to preparing construction materials. They also rented local labours to do construction work,” Kiêm said.

“Locals here are keen on study, so they encourage their childrens to go to school. There are currently about 500 students in the commune that live far from school. We appreciate very much the project of building dormitaries and libraries for ethnic students,” Kiêm said. VNS