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News Service:

Annette Hacker, manager,
(515) 294-3720

Office: (515) 294-4777



Nicholas Jensen, construction engineering major, (515) 290-3401

Colin Madden, horticulture major, (515) 290-3448

Luke Jensen, University of Northern Iowa student, (515) 290-5913

Jonathan West, University of Northern Iowa student, (515) 290-4559

Mary Jo Glanville, College of Engineering, (515) 294-8787

Mike Krapfl, News Service, (515) 294-4917

Students build shelters for Thailand tsunami victims

AMES, Iowa -- They helped bucket by bucket by bucket.

Two Iowa State University students and two University of Northern Iowa students recently spent 10 weeks building shelters in Thailand for tsunami victims. They worked in 100 degree heat. They used picks to dig footings three feet into rocky ground. And they poured concrete footings one bucket at a time.

Last December, the four students - Nicholas Jensen, an Iowa State construction engineering major from Ames; Colin Madden, an Iowa State horticulture major from Roland; Luke Jensen, Nicholas Jensen's cousin and a University of Northern Iowa student from Ames; and Jonathan West, a University of Northern Iowa student from Story City - decided to do something to help victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami.

So they postponed a semester of study. Their churches - Cornerstone Church in Ames and Harvest Evangelical Free Church in Story City - agreed to sponsor their work. A friend had a family contact in Bangkok who made arrangements for them to work in Khao Lak, the hardest hit region of Thailand. And a donor paid their expenses.

On January 21, less than a month after the tsunami hit, the students were on a 24-hour flight to Thailand.

The students spent the first five weeks working for a relief effort called Tsunami Volunteers.

"We worked with a team of volunteers building temporary wood frame structures," Jensen said. "There was a huge need for shelters. A hundred people would move in the minute we got them finished."

For the second half of their stay, the students worked on projects organized by the Mercy Foundation. Acclimated to the culture and working conditions, the four were in charge of constructing 15 permanent houses built with reinforced concrete. They coordinated the efforts of some 100 volunteers each day.

Madden said he brought a lot of construction skills to Thailand. But many of them weren't much help in a country that doesn't have the luxury of power tools. "You learn that a good hammer is a luxury," he said.

Yes, Jensen said, "The days were long and hard, but it was a great opportunity. Our leadership and decision-making skills developed very quickly, and we worked with volunteers from all over Europe, Australia, and America so it was a worldwide cultural experience."

When the four left for home in April, eight of the two-story houses had been completed with seven more ready to be roofed.

Getting to know the Thai people was perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the trip. Jensen had expected the language barrier to create some awkwardness, but it turned out the Thais loved the challenge of communicating with people from another culture. "We taught them English on the job site and they taught us some Thai," Jensen said.

Madden learned to appreciate the Thai people. He called them loving and hospitable. And despite the devastation, he said, "They were very thankful for what they had."

Three more Iowa State University students will leave for Thailand on May 23. Aaron Nelson and Andrew Chalmers, mechanical engineering majors, and Grant Lovin, a construction engineering major, will work to build a church, an orphanage and more houses.


Quick look

Four students from Story County used muscle-power to build shelters in the Khao Lak region of Thailand.


"You learn that a good hammer is a luxury."

Colin Madden

For a print-quality photo contact News Service at 294-3720
Students Luke Jensen, Nicholas Jenson, Colin Madden and Jonathan West join a bucket brigade at a work site in Thailand. They're pouring concrete footings for shelters one bucket at a time. The students worked alongside a Thai worker who was covered from head to toe for protection from the heat.

For a print-quality photo contact News Service at 294-3720
From left: Jonathan West, Colin Madden, Nicholas Jensen and Luke Jensen spent part of spring semester building houses in Khao Lak, Thailand. That part of Thailand was hit hard by the Indian Ocean tsunami in December.