During the National Day week, a team of three of us from Engineering Good went to Bohol, Philippines, where we are working with the NGO Little Heroes’ Dreams to establish a children’s home for 50 orphaned and abandoned children, supported by a school and commercial facilities. The nine-day trip was a chance for us to get a better understanding of the location of the home. It is integral to properly consider the environment, community and available resources in order to develop an appropriate design, and this could only be done by going to observe the conditions with our own eyes.
For nine days we lived with the sisters who will be running the children’s home, staying at the convent and school, sharing meals and spending time with their friends, children and other members of the community. Through this experience we gained an appreciation for the community’s lives, culture and values.
We also organised a participatory design workshop with teachers, the sisters and residents from nearby communities. Over two hours the participants discussed and brainstormed about all aspects of the project from safety, how children would go to and from the school, construction materials, to the location of the toilets and what constituted a conducive learning environment.
Of course, as a team of engineers contributing our technical expertise, a critical aspect of our trip was to identify potential sites for the buildings. For instance, the current school is located on a plot of land with very weak soil and subject to cyclic flooding. Attempting to construct buildings there would be prohibitively expensive. Thus we assessed another eight potential sites, considering factors such as flood risk, earthquake risk, access to services, land price, and so on. This will help Little Heroes’ Dreams secure a more suitable site.
To understand local construction materials and techniques, we spent some time at construction sites and visiting hardware stores. We had heard that bamboo was available everywhere, and while that is true, the bamboo is only used for fencing and light cladding. This is a pity because some of the bamboo species in Bohol are perfectly suitable for structural purposes.
Although our team is back in Singapore, we will continue to work closely with the community to develop a design that best meets their needs.
We are thankful to the Handmaids of Christ the King Sisters (Ancillae Christi Sisters) and, in particular, Sister Evelyn, their friends, teachers and kids, for their boundless hospitality, great moments and help during the trip.