Tag Archives: volunteering

Bamboo Trees: Building with Bamboo in the Laos Jungle

For 3 weeks in April, I had the fantastic opportunity to assist in hosting Building Trust’s latest design + build workshop in the Laos jungle. With a team of international volunteers, Laos workers and Building Trust staff we completed the build of an innovative fundraising merchandise store for Free the Bears.


Following the construction of several built projects in South East Asia using natural materials and seeing the growing interest and response in sustainable design and natural materials such as bamboo. Building Trust organised a Design + Build workshop to be held at Kuang Si Falls on the outskirts of Luang Prabang with Free the Bears. Working alongside Atelier COLE, a new merchandise store was designed and built which educates both workshop participants and the high volume of annual tourist visitors to the Tat Kuang Si Park on building with bamboo.


Free the Bears work tirelessly to combat the illegal trade in live bears and provide a safe sanctuary for any rescued bears at Tat Kuang Si Rescue Centre. Most of the bears at the centre are Asiatic Black Bears (Moon Bears) that were illegally captured from the wild as young cubs. It is likely that they were destined for use in the traditional medicine trade. The merchandise store will enable Free the Bears to sell items such as T-shirts, in order to receive much needed donations to allow them to continue their ongoing efforts to protect bears in Laos and beyond.


The fluted fountain like canopies protect the deck area by catching rain water and passing it through the gravel filled, hollow, circular foundation footings. As with all Building Trust projects the Bamboo Trees project worked closely with the local community who in this case were Khmu. They assisted in sharing local skills such as bamboo, rattan weaving and palm thatching which were later used to develop the roof of the structure.


The bamboo is complimented by rope (around 10 kilometres) that spirals around the structure, weaving each piece together and creating strength from the whole. The resulting tensegrity structures lean against each other in a tripartite vault.



You can see more photos of the construction of Bamboo Trees Here and be sure to check out more about Free The Bears!

Thanks for reading!


Design + Build in Italy – August 2015

Italy Design and Build poster opt 2
I am very happy to announce details of Building Trust international’s latest Design + Build workshop which will be held in Italy in August 2015.
Design + Build Workshop, Italy 2015

What will workshop participants learn?

We are happy to announce that we will be working with “Terraepaglia”, a group of artisan handicraft experts who specialize in natural construction methods. Along with creating innovative buildings from earth and straw, Terraepaglia aim to publicize and educate on the use of natural materials and local techniques, that are often considered obsolete and less efficient than modern techniques. The value of this project is in the creation of functional spaces to communicate the importance of sustainable architecture, made of local reused materials.

This is a hands on course working with others to learn on-site skills such as:

  • Adobe bricks mixing and making
  • Soil testing
  • Straw bale construction
  • Rammed earth
  • Wattle and daub walls
  • Natural plastering
  • Wood flooring
When:  The fun bit with hands on lessons in the techniques mentioned above Mon 17th August – Sat 29th August 2015
If you would like to take part in our latest workshop please email info@buildingtrustinternational.org and check out more on our partners Terraepaglia
Thanks for reading,

The Frames are up!

LIVE UPDATE: Moving Schools project – Frames for School modules are up!

After a successful day placing the first school frame into position, everyone from teachers and students to volunteers were very excited about the upcoming weeks and the fast progress, happening on the build. We spent the next week finishing the remaining foundation posts on the second line of the classrooms. It was very rewarding to see the first school module in the corner of the site, a reminder of the success that comes from the hard work of digging and fitting the foundation posts.

In an effort to recruit further volunteers to assist with the build, we placed posters throughout Mae Sot in guesthouses and cafes to entice more people to help out. We were very happy to receive a call from a Belgian family who saw our poster and thought a few days volunteering on our school project would be a great way to spend time on their holiday. Hans, An, Emile and Yann were a great boost of energy to our project, Hans helped David, Pablo and Jim with foundations while An and her sons Emile (10) and Yann (5) helped me with painting. It was great to see a family taking a month break from work to enjoy family time in Thailand and also help out with a volunteering project. Our youngest volunteers so far were definitely the most energetic painting the ceiling and flooring frames in no time at all.

When we originally visited Mae Sot in January 2011, we were shown around some of the school buildings by a Spanish NGO, Colabora Birmania. We have since stayed in touch with the NGO and were very lucky to be offered three new Spanish volunteers to help out on the build. David, Guiomar and Izaga are in Mae Sot for a month and have very kindly offered to volunteer on our ‘Moving Schools’ project. They quickly got to grips with the task of fitting foundation posts. It was easy to keep momentum up when carrying out the foundation posts as we could see the eager to learn children being taught outside their current school classroom to allow the teacher the much needed further space and quiet area she needed to teach. We saw the children playing a number game with their teacher with a game kindly donated by Imagine Thailand. We look forward to seeing the teacher and her students playing the number game in their newly built school classrooms very soon.

Children play a number game outside
Children play a number game outside

With only two weeks left until we fly home, we placed a deadline as to when all the steel had to be cut, painted and drilled at the workshop. We were very glad to see the workshop team work through the weekend to ensure all steel was ready in time. On Friday, we hired a 6 wheel truck to move all the steel to construct the school project from the Global Neighbors workshop to Thu Kha Hang Sar school. With our newly trained volunteers and a few spare hands courtesy of the workers from the Two Wheels Bike shop we had a team in place to move the steel to site. As we patiently waited at the workshop for the driver to arrive, excitement was building as our team knew today we would hopefully assemble all the frames.

As the truck manoeuvred around the workshop site, the team loaded the truck with all the different sections of steel, from columns to floor joists and ceiling beams. It was great to know that the steel needed for 10 classroom modules would fit comfortably onto the 6 wheel truck and reassuring to know that this school really was a ‘Moving School.’



Quickly the piles of the steel around the workshop decreased and within an hour the truck was fully loaded and ready to travel to the school site.

David, our volunteers and I jumped into our truck and led the 6 wheel truck to the school site. We travelled through the small village of Mae Pa where we tightly squeezed through narrow roads passing day markets and buffalo’s on the road. Driving through rice paddy fields, we saw workers carrying out their daily chores and then finally we drove up the final small hill to the school to see our first module standing proud through the corn fields. It was exciting to know we were about to construct 9 further modules.

As the sun came out over lunch time, the team prepared to remove the very hot steel from the truck into the school grounds. We spoke with Chan Chan the school headmistress to explain that the children needed to stay inside while the steel was moved. As the piles of steel from the truck were slowly moved in the mid day sun to the school, we could hear the children inside standing on their tip toes to see what we were doing.  Chan Chan told the children that we would be building the remaining school frames and they spoke to her with excitement and asked when they could be taught in the new school. It was great to know that both the teachers and students were excited about their new school building.

Last few pieces of steel are taken of truck
Last few pieces of steel are taken of truck

The next task was to lay out the steel into position on the floor and bolt together. The frames could then be lifted up moved into place next to foundation holes and slotted into position.

Frames are laid out on site
Frames are laid out on site

Thu Kha Hang Sar school sadly had their electricity cables stolen recently therefore there is no electricity on site. With no power to charge the tools needed to construct the frames, we managed to hire a generator which powered the drills needed for the build. As the majority of the team constructed the frames on the school grounds, workers Nain and Aung Myint Soe tested the water level across the school and marked out where the holes to place the frames were to be drilled.

Aung Myint Soe and Nain measure water level
Aung Myint Soe and Nain measure water level

With the height measured, it was time to place the frames into place:

2nd Module

2nd Module
2nd Module

The team quickly got the hang of moving the frame into position and were quickly slotting the frames into place.

Module 3


Finally the first line of modules is complete with the 4th and 5th module in place.



With daylight ending, we decided to re-group the next day to finish the second row of modules. We met bright and early on Saturday morning and managed to put up the remaining frames during the hours when the rain stopped.


It was incredible to see the frames on the school site, it gave us a real sense of what the final building will look like. Chan Chan and the teachers arrived to school on Monday morning and were very happy to see their new school building really taking shape.

Now we wait patiently for the roofing and flooring to arrive from Bangkok which we hope to install at the weekend. Meanwhile, the workshop team are still very busy construction the bamboo wall panels and the remaining roof frames. A very busy and exciting few weeks are in store!