Participating in a voluntary activity in the Philippines was a remarkable and valuable experience. As a graduate of UNESCO Chair Earthen Architecture, I joined the renovation project of the Partida Day Care Centre with the faculty and students of Mokpo National University. Although we were leading the project, the local people really impressed me by being actively and voluntarily involved in the entire process, from design to construction.
Before initiating the project to renovate the Partida Day Care Centre, we held a meeting with the Partida community to ask them what the problems were and how they wanted the building to be renovated. Before we arrived in the Philippines, we were aware that the ceiling of the mud-brick building, built in 2016, leaked during rainfall, but we were still happy to listen carefully to their additional requirements in order to propose a design and space that satisfied them. The problems they mentioned were as follows;
Ant infestation on the floor
Old main door
Broken jalousie windows
and their additional requirements were as follows;
Child-friendly indoor spaces such as alphabet letters or numbers.
A mud-free pathway to the entrance.
A waiting area where parents could wait for their children.
The faculty of Mokpo National University and experts of Earthen Architecture subsequently created a design proposal based on these requirements and problems and presented it at a second meeting with the local community, who expressed their approval of the proposal and their deepest gratitude.
The local people of Partida voluntarily engaged with our construction process. They mainly helped to paint the interior and exterior of the building, which was known locally as ‘the igloo’. They even proposed that the bricks of the pathway should be painted with the colours of the flags of South Korea and the Philippines to symbolise the fact that the Partida had been renovated by the hands of people from two nations.
Furthermore, local craftsmen, Rafael and Eugene, helped to procure the construction materials, and install the columns, beams and roof of the mud-brick building. It would have been almost impossible to realise our proposed design in a limited time without their professional skills and experience.
This project made me realise the importance of involving local people right from the start. The people who used the Day Care Centre had specific ideas about the building and they were very satisfied when we proposed a design that met their requirements. When I saw that the local people actually enjoyed being involved in the renovation project, I knew that they would cherish an igloo that had been redecorated by their own hands.
Despite the positive aspects of the project, I felt it was a shame that there was no programme to educate local people about advanced earthen construction methods. Since the voluntary project focused on expanding the experience of the students of Mokpo National University, there was no practical training or programme to teach local people about building with earth. It is unlikely that they will be able to maintain the mud-brick building in future without such training, considering the unique quality of earth. Since earthen construction is not yet popular in the Philippines, education and the effort of the government will be required to encourage the construction of earthen buildings, and this is likely to be a long process. However, as a proverb “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, I am determined to be someone who takes that single step to change the sustainability of earth buildings in local communities in developing and under-developed countries.