By hand, with heart – building for the less privileged

For the past year, Wong Siew Ling has been building a community with his friends, here is the story in his own words:

At the beginning of last year, I joined a volunteer group to work on a church for an orang asli community.

This village was located at a very remote area. To reach it, we had to travel 5 hours by car on a logging road, followed by another 3 hours on a small dirt track; crossing 2 small rivers. After which, we left our cars, crossed the final wider river on foot and continued walking for another 45 mins. Only then did we arrive.

The community had an existing church, but as the village grew, they aspired for a new one. It would be their regional community centre for about 200 people. Our group of volunteers were made up of people of all ages, from all walks of life with different skill sets. My group was tasked to design the church. We did not want to design from the office, instead we wanted to engage the locals in the design process, and to involve them in the site selection, sourcing of materials, logistics and so forth. In return, they would learn about construction through the design and building process – they do not have a tradition in construction. This way of consultative collaboration opened doors to solutions and relationships that would be hidden from us in a “normal” design process. The biggest challenge was that we had to build the church in our 2 trips to the village, totaling 15 days. We had 40 volunteers for the build, but only 5 had building experience. We used simple construction methods and detailing that could be built and sustained by the community.

With modular construction, with locals and volunteers inspired by the architecture process, with teamwork, and with God’s help, we managed to complete the building on time.

Since the completion of the church, we have continued to work in the same way to build houses in the community. The community has a greater sense of pride and ownership in these buildings, having built them with their own hands.

These are photos are from a recent trip. It is my hope that my story will inspire other architects to think about they can help the 90% of our community who cannot afford the services of an architect.

The church building was completed after 15 days

The church building was completed after 15 days




Our focus was not solely on the building, but on the experience shared during the process of building


Mount Hope, Kalimantan

I met Craig Pilcher one afternoon over lunch.

He had travelled across the border to buy supplies and to look for an architect for a school he was building for a village in West Kalimantan. He needed someone to draw up plans so that his team of locals and volunteers can extend the primary school in the village. The people here are mostly Dayaks.

Craig is from New Zealand and has spent the last 11 years in this village. He is part of the Mount Hope organisation which had adopted this village to help build meaningful lives through education, training and nurturing. Mount Hope is a ten-minute walk from Balai Karangan, which is a 2-hour drive from Kuching. The village boasts the best school (kindergarten, primary, junior high) results in the area, and the school now has a long waiting list. Hence the need to expand the school facilities. Their work is carried out in part by employed staff, volunteers and the locals themselves. It was founded by Sam and Carol Soukotta in 1998.

I asked him how he manages to get funding for the school, the houses, the fish farm, the vegetable garden and livestock sheds. He said “Faith – I wake up each morning and just do what I am meant to do, and know that everything else will take care of itself”.





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