week 3: Nam Wa Po, Tai Po - Today we feature the third of seven finalists in our Preserving Villages series, a project to highlight communities among the 600 surviving New Territories villages that are working to keep alive their heritage and communal traditions. The Post, together with the Home Affairs Department and indigenous villagers, has spent a year collecting suggestions from district officers, rural workers, businesspeople and friends. We visited more than 40 villages and identified seven finalists. We are featuring the finalists on Mondays this month and next, and we will reveal a grand winner on October 23 A century ago this week, a member of the Lam clan of Hang Ha Po registered the purchase of 200 acres of land about 2km away from his native home. Mr Lam Tai-wan paid HK$220 for the land; in 1906, eight years after the British signed the lease that gained them the New Territories for 99 years, that was a great buy. This coming Saturday, Lams from Nam Wa Po village, set amid that 200 acres, will celebrate the land purchase made by their canny forebear. All 300 clan members who still live in the village will be there. So will Lams who live in Canada, Britain and other countries. So will distant relatives from the old Lam village of Hang Ha Po. 'We will celebrate the present and remember the past,' said Indigenous Village Representative Lam Kiu-chung. The legend of how Nam Wa Po was founded is one aspect of the past that lives on in the community, about a kilometre up the Tolo Highway from Hong Lok Yuen towards Fanling. Nestled in the plains, the village thrived for generations on the deep soil where Lam farmers planted their rice and vegetables. But it was most famed for its school. In the 1920s, education was deeply prized but seldom affordable for poor Hakka villagers. The British had a shrewd system. The local District Officer would select two or three boys from every community, usually the sons of prominent and wealthy residents, and offer them enrolments at government schools. For boys who lived on the Fanling plains, this meant going to Tai Po. There they learned, among other things, the English language. The aim was to encourage the use of English and to ensure that in every village there were people who spoke the language, making it easier for the administration to govern. That was fine for the children of the village leaders whose children got preferential treatment, but not so good for the families who missed out. So in the 1920s, the Lams of Nam Wa Po pooled their resources and built a school; it was one of the first villages in Tai Po to provide education for their children - and it set a pattern followed by other communities. Using the Hakka syllabus, children studied primary classes in the one-room school. Rebuilt in 1953, the Nam Wa Po School served the village until it was closed six years ago. One student there was indigenous village representative Lam Kiu-chung. 'I can remember when there were 100 students crammed into the school. I didn't even go to classes until I was 12 years old,' explains the 70-year-old who has been village representative for 27 years. 'Times were hard. You have to understand that. We were needed for work, to help in the fields and look after animals. But our village valued educating the new generation. We still do. 'When we reached middle school, we had to go to Tai Po or Sha Tin or even to Kowloon. That's where the secondary schools were. We had to walk to the railway track through thick bush. 'We would follow the tracks in packs. Many people were very poor. But they knew to stay together so we would not get robbed of our simple possessions by the road bandits.' As Lam Kiu-chung can recall his teaching at the Nam Wa Po school, so can his six boys and some of his seven grandchildren who followed in their ancestors' footsteps through the doors. The school building still stands proudly, a symbol of faith in schooling, as well as faith of another kind. When it was rebuilt a half-century ago, the enlarged building incorporated a church, which is still used with weekly services held for about 40 worshippers. The other half of the building is used as a gathering place for villagers and tutorial centre for students. Nam Wa Po today has 300 indigenous villagers. Another 400 native sons and daughters live abroad. Many are expected back for the centenary celebrations on September 30. Every child in the village knows the story of its foundation. The clan had lived for centuries in Hang Ha Po village near Lam Tsuen, site of the famous wishing trees. By the end of the 19th century, the clan's population had grown so large that new fields were needed to feed them. In 1905, surveyors of the British Indian Army carried out the first detailed land survey of the New Territories. The following year, Lam Tai-wan made his purchase. The records of this were found only a few months ago by Lam Kwai-choi, the elected village residents representative. 'I was doing some research in the Tai Po Government Offices for the Hang Ha Po temple and I came across a purchase lease with our ancestor's name on it,' explained the 62-year-old former marine inspector. 'It was quite an exciting find.' That was in June. Villagers were inspired by having the centennial date so close and began contacting every absentee Lam worldwide. 'We're having our 100th birthday party,' was the message. 'There is going to be a big performance with singers coming from Hong Kong to celebrate with us. Of course, we'll host a traditional pun choy [big bowl] feast. Come home!' Many will. The party will cost at least HK$300,000; villagers shrug and say it happens only once every 100 years and will be an occasion to enjoy as well as to thank the sagacity of their ancestral home buyer. 'Thanks to our ancestor Lam Tai-wan we own quite a lot of land,' explained Lam Kwai-choi. 'With this asset, the village pot has been growing.' When the party takes place, villagers will have finished a historical booklet tracing Nam Wa Po's history and the significance of the school the villagers founded.