Sunday, April 10, 2011

Habitat for Humanity - Batam, Indonesia

Back in the U.S., my home office usually dedicated a day each June for the last few years to a local Habitat for Humanity projects.  I've learned to drywall and properly hammer a framing nail :).  It's always been a great way to do something where you can see your impact immediately.  And, very nice to get out of the office and have some physical activity.  So when a co-worker here in Singapore said she was organising a local Habitat outing, I was all for it.  It was not a work sponsored event, so we ended up with a good mix of eight of us with different backgrounds.

There's a nearby Indonesian island, Batam, where the Singapore Habitat program does daily builds, Batam Build. Otherwise they also sponsor longer trips (~1 week) to areas such as Thailand and most likely Japan here in the future.  What I quickly realised was that there would be no framing or drywall here.  Houses are made out of concrete and bricks.  Prepare for some manual labor!

Here's a re-cap of our successful day (be prepared, lots to share).  I mean, I'm crazy sore this morning, so that means success right? :)

Our Saturday morning started off bright and early...well dark and early because the sun rises here around 7-7:15am and we met at the ferry dock at 6:45am.  Thankfully there was a 24hr McD's around.  Can't pass up McD's breakfast :).  It was a 30-45min ferry ride to Batam.  I'm still always amazed at all the ships in the sea around Singapore.  The picture doesn't do it justice.  We arrived around 8am local time (Indonesia is an hour behind Singapore) and joined with another group of high school sophomores from the Singapore American School and headed out in our orange bus.

We arrived on site, found the houses each of our teams was working on and got our assignments.  First task, move one large pile of bricks down the lane and in front of our house. It took about one trip for us to figure out the most efficient way to work - team loading, wheelbarrow runners and team unloading. And we're off!

And then we were left with our last two bricks!!

All piled up....

We felt pretty awesome - we'd made quick (though hard) work of our large pile of bricks.  So now what? Move the second pile of bricks for the other house :).  This one was smaller to start with though and was definitely quick work!  Pile two, check.

At this point it seemed like we should be ready for a break, but adding an extra hour threw off our timing a bit.  Being up around 5:30, eating breakfast at 7 and then waiting for lunch until 1pm (Sing time - noon locally) made for a longer than expected morning.  So on to the next job, building rebar.

If you're like me, you think of complicated steel, usually under new highway construction, when you think of rebar.  Well, ours was not so complicated and was being used for corners of the house, to hold up the roof, etc.  First, long steel rods were cut, four of the same length.  Locals did this based on what section of the house it would be used for.  Second, square rings had to be made from sections of the same steel rods.  Our teams helped with this (by this time, we were all working as one team).

This tool, similar to a crowbar, has a notch at one end to fit over the steel bar.  The wood has strategically placed nails to hold the bar in place, while someone twists the crowbar to turn the steel rod at a right angle.  Times four makes a square :).

The four steel rods that run the length are then put through a series of these square rings.

You then take small gauge wire and tie the corners of the square rings to the appropriate steel rod and clip off the excess wire. 

Do one side, flip it and do the other.  You're left with a completed rebar section ready for concrete!

After a few sections of rebar were done, it was time for a break while the rest of the group finished their work and then lunch! We had a much needed water break, took a stroll around the neighborhood and then settled in for lunch.  It exceeded expectations! We were building in a pretty rural area.  

We took an hour for lunch to eat, rest up and find out a little bit more about the group we were working with. Nothing makes you feel old like a bunch of 15-year olds who didn't know what we were talking about when we mentioned the old Walkman that had the automated flip for A/B sides so you didn't have to take the tape out! Huh?? :)  

After lunch, it was time for some concrete and continued building of rebar.  Only a few were needed for concrete, but it seemed the much more exciting task ;).  

Mix some sand and concrete mix.

Mix some more and add some gravel.

Keep mixing and add some water, in the middle and continue.

Slop some in a bucket and hand it to the guy on the roof.

Careful not to drop it (yes one was dropped).

Guy #2 on the roof pours the concrete into the rebar on the roof edge (see far left) that has been set-up with wood on the sides to mold it around the rebar.

For our trip, we each raised about S$200 along with our trip costs.  The raised funds all go to materials for building, and with the additional costs, we separately paid for our transport to the island, lunch, t-shirt, etc.  If you're not familiar with Habitat's program, each future homeowner is a partner in the process.  They are not given free housing, but are given a helping hand.  The partner family is selected from a group of applicants as they will ultimately be required to purchase this house at cost.  The labor is volunteered.  In Indonesia, they said the cost is roughly S$3,000, which would be about US$2,400 in today's dollars.  The partners pay back roughly 80-90% of this cost over 5-8 years.  Often, many families get together to purchase/pay back their houses as a group.  Each partner family is required to contribute labor, "sweat equity", to their and/or other homes as well.  I forget the exact number of hours, but it's a lot - maybe 400-500?  Don't quote me on that though.  That's a lot of time figuring that our teams combined added just over 100 hours in one day and, while there was visible progress, there was still a lot to go.  Makes you understand how incredibly patient these families are as they wait for a new home. 

The Batam Build project started in 2004 with 700 houses planned.  They estimated that it will be another 10-15 years before the project is fully complete.  And yet, the kids we met were happy.  The adults we saw had smiles on their faces.  Our morning was serenaded with karaoke in the morning and prayer calls in the afternoon.  It puts some perspective on your life and what kind of things get you upset.  Everyone reading this is online and therefore is lucky.  Maybe things aren't perfect, but you are doing well and things are good.

We even left some of the kiddos with some American fun ;)

Our group: