Interview Patrick Kasingsing
Images BASE Foundation and 4P
The social inequalities already present in today’s urban spaces have found further amplification with the Covid-19 pandemic; access to basic goods, services, and shelter has become even more herculean for our disadvantaged brothers and sisters who are already reeling from the severe urban imbalances and dangers inherent even before Covid. Amidst the gloom, however, lies the promise of a hopeful tomorrow; lucky residents from Happyland, one of Manila’s largest and most impoverished slum communities, will be given the chance to start anew in a pilot community grounded on the principles of sustainability and self-sufficiency in Nasugbu, Batangas.
Rejoice Village, as the community is called, is the admirable collaboration between BASE Foundation and 4P for People. Years of seeing the hardships and problems that plagued the Happyland community has left a mark on the team behind 4P, led by Norwegian founder Ingar Åkerlund, who masterminded the idea for a new community far from the clutches of the city. “We want them to be self-sufficient—to make their own energy, food, water, job opportunities, livelihood projects, and more,” adds Åkerlund.
4P found kindred spirits in the hardworking folks of BASE Foundation, led by general manager Dr. Pablo Jorillo, who pledged their support and innovations in CBFT (cement bamboo frame technology) for the initiative. Sustainable and cleanly crafted from the get-go, the village utilized local labor and resources (the bamboo used is sourced and treated from BASE’s Nasugbu outpost), with an eye towards reduced energy consumption in the construction phase. “The construction industry is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, and to create an impact, sustainability issues must be addressed,” adds Jorillo.
Nestled in the verdant surrounds of Nasugbu, the community is being built in phases, with bamboo, Base’s material of choice, serving a vital role in enabling sustainably built and natural disaster-proof structures. The ‘children’s village’ or orphanage makes up the first phase of the project and is envisioned to be the heart of the fledgling community. Thirty houses are also currently being built to house the village’s first few families, with schools, clinics, and community centers in the pipeline.
It is encouraging to see initiatives such as this unfold in a time when suffering and dread is widespread; 4P and Base envision Rejoice Village to become a “full, worthy society” where everyone is free to live and thrive in their own way, and where the tools and means to blossom as a community are now within reach. “Through our partnership with 4P, we can now see a sustainable future that includes better infrastructure and better living conditions for the most underprivileged members of society,” Jorillo ends.
Kanto briefly sat down (virtually) with Åkerlund and Jorillo to talk about their recent collaboration, further expanding on the plan’s inner workings, desired social impact, and future growth. The full interview after this break
Hi BASE and 4P! Can you school us a bit about how this collaboration came to be? Have both organizations worked together previously? What about each other’s causes struck you and convinced you to work together?
Ingar Åkerlund, 4P: Rejoice Village was envisioned to be a sustainable community built with eco-friendly materials. The structures include an orphanage, homes, admin buildings, and community centers. BASE was the only organization that was using bamboo for permanent structures on a larger scale. It was also an opportunity for BASE to show the possibilities of designing buildings with the Cement-Bamboo Frame technology that is not only for housing. BASE has also provided technical support to organizations for projects that have a high social impact.
How was the community chosen? What were the challenges and benefits the plot offered? How does Base’s cement bamboo frame technology fit with the natural and climatic conditions of the place? Were other sites also considered?
Åkerlund: 4P searched for land for over three years and traveled to different parts of Southern Luzon before we finally found this place near Nasugbu. It is in the countryside, easily accessible, and the price was low. The size of the area, 2.7 hectares, was also what we wanted. Other important things for us are that the area is well-drained with a creek on the east side and with a view of the sea on the west side. It is an elongated plot with a road that divides the area lengthwise, the road ending in Nasugbu town proper.
Pablo Jorillo, Base: Batangas is prone to earthquakes and typhoons; our Cement-Bamboo Frame Technology houses provide the necessary strength and endurance to meet these conditions head-on.
What is the target population for Rejoice Village? What factors are considered to arrive at this figure? Do you envision letting the village grow organically with set boundaries or having smaller village clusters interact with each other?
Åkerlund: The area is about 4,000 sqm and 15 duplex houses will be built or a total of 30 housing units of about 25 sqm each. With a few modifications, the houses can sleep 5 people. In total, we think 120-150 people will live here a little into the future. At the moment, there is no plan of expansions to build additional housing. The larger part of the land will be earmarked for livelihood projects, agriculture, and fish farming.
What measures or programs will be implemented to acclimatize the new citizens of Manila to their new community? How were they consulted before the move about their needs and desires for the community of the future?
Åkerlund: Those who will come from Manila are mostly people we have trained and helped in the slums for many years. We know most people thoroughly and we have a good understanding of their social and economic challenges based on our years of work with them.
You mentioned that the village is conceptualized to support a sustainable, self-sufficient community. What are the concrete/specific programs or efforts inherent in how the village was planned that support these?
Åkerlund: This small community is an old and holistic dream; a big part of the concept is to create jobs and train people to become skilled workers. The plan is to create versatile small industry including greenhouse gardening and tilapia farming. Those who come here should have a meaningful job to go to.
Are there plans to deploy this community model to other locations as well? To close, what lessons and learnings do you wish to leave the future inhabitants of Rejoice Village as they embark on a new, more hopeful journey?
Åkerlund: We do not know exactly how things will develop, but there is a probability that with access to more land in adjacent areas, we will also build more in the years to come. Then it will probably be relevant to split up into clusters and let new settlements be built in connection with business activities, or where it has already been arranged for agriculture or fish farming.
Jorillo: Similar models have already been done in other communities around the country wherein the locals were trained on building with the Cement-Bamboo Frame technology to provide them with skills they could use beyond the project. Through BASE, the HILTI Foundation supports these communities by providing help for self-help under their Economic Empowerment Program. •
For more information on Base Bahay Foundation and ongoing projects, visit base-builds.com.