Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Work! Day 1

And so it begins...our intensive labour of love! Enough galavanting to faraway site visits like Carmona Cavite - a town floating in rice fields an hour outside of Manila, or Santa Rosa - where CCT is negotiating property for development right alongside a railroad slum community, or even Tagaytay - where we find the Taal Volcano, dormant for 30 years.

To the drafting tables!

For this whole week, we have the privilege of working with four Hong Kong architects (Davis, Fred, Robert and Fan) and one urban planner (Frank), practitioners who've donated their time to help us with our designs. I'd better take the time to mention our contact and facilitator for this whole venture - Freeman Chan. It was through him that we came to Manila and through his contacts that we were introduced to the projects we are now engaged in. And it's through him that we have the opportunity to work with such knowledgable people from Hong Kong.

Today was the first day we spent almost entirely indoors. We have a deadline already - we need to present our ideas in a comprehensive manner on Saturday to the board of CCT, so that they can look for financing for the projects.

We are focusing primarily on three projects, which will in turn inform our decision-making for the three or four other projects we have on our list. So we all divided up according to our interests and began...

One project, Carmona Cavite, is a site that has been purchased in a rural setting that will house ten families. These families lived previously in the town of Cavite under the highway bridge on government land. The government has recently decided to expand the overpass and has demolished the houses. We visited the the demolition site and had the chance to speak with some of the previous owners of the now destroyed houses. They all expressed a desire for each to have the same house size and shape, so that they could all be equal. This is despite the fact that one of the ten families has 9 children! I have a vested interest in this project in particular because I grew up on construction sites and would like to explore affordable housing in the futur. Yet the concept of having equal housing for small and big families alike seems absurd. We are scheduled to have a lecture on the Filipino Concept of Space later this week. Hopefully this upcoming session will put my mind to rest. The relocation lot is 120 sq.m. and must house ten families...that leaves 10 sq.m. each...equally. Good news is that my team has two of the five working with us: Davis, Fred, Me, Matt and Andrea. This project requires all of our knowledge, imagination and innovative skills to come up with a viable solution.

Another project is the property in Santa Rosa. This team consists of the most members: Frank, Robert, Yan, Jillian, Cindy, Hans and Omar. This property must accomodate between 400-500 houses, including circulation and communal spaces and facilities, as well as a potential school and church. This group has started hashing out numbers - for density, housing area, housing cost, etc. I am excited to see how the master plan will develope.

The third project is the one in Tagaytay - a training and retreat center. This is a project that CCT has envisioned as a way to serve the people. This would be a place of people empowerment, were the focus would be on teaching the poor - emphasizing entrepreneurship and business management. This is a beautiful, visionary project that Fan and Manu are diligently working on with the quiet wisdom of Freeman.

It was a long day, but we made good progress...now that we have a regular schedule, we just need to worry about how we're going to manage our eating habits.....

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Batasan Hills

'Barangay' which means community in Tagalog (Filipino) was the key word for the day. Today we visited the barangay of Batasan Hills, where we hope to help the community by providing them with a design for a new Barangay Center (Community Center). Batasan Hills is one the largest districts within Manila, with an approximate population of 200,000 people. Their unanimously elected mayor, Capt. Rannie is a visionary for his people and through his Barangay Center he offers: his own police service (separate to that of the city), a judicial system (also separate to that of the city), a counseling program, and a mortgage program. This mortgage program offers these squatters through monthly payments, an opportunity for them within five to fifteen years the capacity for them to own their own land and become legitiment residents of the city. The counseling program headed by ate Millet (auntie Millet), is the cornerstone of the community, where the people are offered aid and guidance through a variety of family problems including rape, child abuse, infidelity, and even dog bites. Ate Millet has no background in such matters, except for the fact that she is an elder woman with life's experiences and that she is highly respected in the community. She offers people the chance to for them to come hash things out in her presence before possibly taking things to a higher judiciary.

(Above): ate Millet and the BuildAid team

(Left): Capt Rannie warning potential wrong doers that he will be the one to personally lay down the law

Batasan Hills is in need for a new Barangay Center, they have a new site of 2500 square meters, where they hope to have a seven floor structure with plenty of park space and a more improved organization. They hope to have the bottom three floors rented out as commercial space, where the center can receive its income. Then the top four floors accommodating all the services that exist in their current Community Center, and several other things in addition. Our job would be to provide them with a conceptual design for this Center, where we hope we can be sensitive to all their specific needs and wants. Capt. Rannie hopes to start construction on this new Barangay Center by June 2007.
(Above): The BuildAid team on site for the new Community Center

Also in Batasan Hills, Pastor Choy has abandoned his whole life to live in the slums with gangster youths in order to reform their lives, to lives of meaning and purpose. He has been living there for several years now, and has gained their trust. Through a youth center and church he has made a difference in alot of young lives, and more to come.

(Right): Pastor Choy

Friday, May 26, 2006


After a sleep-deprived and cramped plane ride halfway across the world, we finally arrived in Manila on Monday evening.

The past few days, we have been meeting the various groups we will be involved with during our stay here - ISACC (Institute of Studies in Asian Church & Culture), CCT (Center for Community Transformation) and GK (Gawad Kalinga). All of these have have for a long time been doing work in Philippine slums, be it simple renovation or providing families with the financial packages needed to construct and own a proper home. after from getting to know the very kind and genuine people working at these organizations, we went on to visit the sites where they do their work.

From the basic first impression, I can tell you that a slum isn't quite what you would imagine. In more developed countries we are often fed images of despair, poverty, misery plaguing the lives of the people living in such places. That is undoubtedly true in many places. But from what we saw in Malaybay (pronounced mah-LEE-bye), it is not as simple as that, in reality. There is also a inescapable vitality to the place. Children run through the streets, laughing, playing with impromptu toys. Almost every single person will greet you with a genuine smile (and maybe a comical pose for the camera) as you walk by. I was so taken by this aspect that most of my camera footage went to the people, rather than the particular houses we were there to study.

Malaybay waterfront. Large portions of the community were in fact on stilts, which was not apparent when walking on the streets above.

Which one is the real Manila, the modern skyscrapers in the distance, or a slum such as Malaybay in the foreground? Poor areas seem to be growing in every empty lot. There is no major distinctions between areas. The affluent live next door to the poor.

The Malaybay chapter of the 'Big Brothers' club..

Children everywhere we went.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

An introduction.. and a little bit of history

Hello and welcome to BuildAid's online blog.. our very first web home and journal of our internship in Manila. We will be departing for the Philippines on May 21st, and will stay there for 8 weeks, working with existing NGO's to design and build housing in the slums. We hope that you will visit often over the next few weeks to see what we are up to, and get a glimpse of the Philippines as well.

But before we leave, it would be good to introduce to you some of the things we have been doing in the past year leading up to this internship.

A play, an auction of student paintings, a couple of parties - we have been extremely busy over the past few months raising money for the trip, and building public awareness for our group. We managed to make it onto some local newspapers and even a CBC morning radio show. But perhaps the biggest activity, aside from the trip itself, was the creation of the architectural seminar introducing us to reconstruction work.

Under the teachership of Cassidy Johnson and Gonzalo Lizzaralde, we learned about the techniques and infrastructures involved in post-disaster reconstruction, looked at various exisiting housing solutions, and finally went out and built our own housing proposal, designed for those affected by the earthquake in Pakistan of last fall.

After weeks of design work, we started construction in the last weekend of April. It took 4 days of intense activity to erect the building. Constructed almost entirely of reused materials, and costing less than 900 CAD, the shelter was designed to be easy to build, and require as little importation of foreign materials as possible, keeping in mind the compromised access routes in the area. Have a look at the shelter panels for more information.

Considering it managed to stay
up and intact for about a month, I'd say we did a good job.

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