In August 2010 myself and my boyfriend David Cole left our city jobs in London to go traveling. We set off very excited to see the World, visit new cultures and explore new continents. We always had in mind that we would like to do some voluntary work while we were away however we really did not know what we had in store.
On the first part of our trip to South East Asia we visited Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Along the way we researched about many “Voluntary” placements but were very disappointed to find that most companies charged you to take part in their voluntary schemes. We were saddened by this and felt that people should be able to help out communities in need for free.
In January 2011 we visited Mae Sot, Thailand a small town on the border of Burma. Our visit was to be an eventful and a life changing trip which we will never forget. Before we reached Mae Sot, we were already aware of the large number of Burmese refugees who were seeking refuge in the town. We knew there were many schools in the area looking after the children of migrant workers. On our first day we met Naw Paw Ray, a truly inspirational woman. Naw Paw Ray herself originally from the Karen State of Burma saw a problem in Thailand that non-Thai’s were unable to gain an education in the country. She decided to set-up her own school for non Thai’s in the area which grew to be an umbrella organisation in charge of 65 schools looking after 13,000 displaced children in Mae Sot called the Burmese Migrant Workers Education Commitee. She kindly took us around the varying level of school buildings in the area, many of which were agricultural sheds with tarpaulin sheds used to make classrooms.
We learned that there was help from many large aid agencies in the area, however Burmese do not have a right to own land in Thailand. This leads to a terrible problem, new school buildings are being built in the area but the land which the building is built on is owned by a local landlord who can then raise the rent of the land forcing the students and teachers out of the school building which they can no longer afford. It was then that a seed of an idea was planted and we came up with an idea to organise an International design competition asking Architects, Designers and Engineers from across the World to come up with a school design which could be constructed and disassembled if the need arose, moved and then reassembled at very little cost .
Well in order to set-up the competition we decided to register Building Trust International with the Charities Commission in the UK. We launched the School4Burma competition in July last year and had an incredible response with over 800 expressions of interest from over 30 countries.
By entering the competition entrants were asked to give a donation of £95 for Professionals and £25 for students with all donations going towards the cost of the school construction. We announced the winners of the competition in December a design by Amadeo Bennetta and Daniel LaRossa from Berkeley, CA.
We are looking forward to taking the design into the construction phase this summer and I am looking forward to spending the next two months of my placement gaining further public awareness of the design, our charity and the ongoing situation in Burma.
We held an exhibition of the winning and shortlisted designs at a POP up space on Oxford St, London at the beginning of February which was a great success.
The ‘Moving Schools’ event attracted much attention and with the high level of shortlisted designs we are now hoping to gain funding and corporate sponsorship to build the other designs for further communities in need. On my placement I will be looking into finding the funding for these designs.
The more schools we can build the more communities in need we can help.
Today we met with a steel manufacturer to discuss the details of the school build and really start the ball rolling on construction. I will be in charge of coordinating volunteers to assist on the build in Thailand this summer who will not have to pay to work on the build but volunteer their time and services for free.
If you would like to see more of the designs from the competition please visit the Building Trust International website – http://www.buildingtrustinternational.org and be sure to Like our Facebook page.
What started as an idea is really now growing into a huge community of designers, architects and engineers who want to give their time through Building Trust International to help those most in need around the World.
Many thanks for reading I look forward to keeping you up to date with my placement.
Co-Founder/Trustee at Building Trust International