ClassAct Active Schools

We all know how numerous natural disasters have affected our country in recent times. Rural communities in areas like Leyte, Samar, and Bohol have been so badly damaged that it will take many years to have them fully back on their feet. Oftentimes, it’s the children who suffer the hardest.

If you’re a loyal follower of this blog, you’ll know that education is something close to my heart. After discovering my love for teaching while living in Sydney, I knew there was no way I could turn my back on helping others in my own country improve their lives, so I was more than happy to help my friend Erin Hou (ClassAct’s US Project Manager) share the good news about an amazing project that hopes to bring quality education to those in the Philippines who need it the most.

classact1ClassAct is a non-profit foundation that aims to build low-cost, weather resistant schools in badly damaged areas of the country. They are currently working hard to raise the funds to make this dream concrete in Bohol. The schools are beautiful, sustainable, and multi-functional. They even plan to offer vocational night classes for adults in the community.

I asked Erin to share a bit more about the project. I really encourage you to click on their Kickstarter page and see how you can help. Any amount will make a difference.

Hi, Erin. Can you share a bit about how this dream to build schools in the Visayas started? How was your foundation able to get such noted forces, like Kenneth Cobonpue and Columbia University, involved?

Erin Hou: Lead architect Aya Maceda has always been interested in small projects that have a larger social impact. The idea for the ClassAct: Active School was born out of a project that she worked on as a graduate student at Columbia University’s School of Architecture. When she received a grant to work on an architectural project of social significance, she decided to bring it to the Philippines, and the biggest issue she found there was the educational gap. This brought her to the question of  how could architectural design improve upon the basic classroom in order to create change?

While she was working on this, the Bohol earthquake struck, followed three weeks later by typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), so her focus then shifted to the needs of those students there who lost their classrooms. Obviously the question of pedagogy was initially the main focus in the classroom redesign, but after the disasters, the question of resiliency became equally important.

The idea caught on with a number of other people (noted, as you say) because I think it’s just a natural reaction of any human, any Filipino, to want to be able to do something after a disaster of this magnitude. So from this idea, a collection of architects, designers, humanitarians, educators and many volunteers assembled to form the ClassAct Foundation, with the goal of rebuilding schools and making them better.

Copy of 17_Drawings 1133 Let’s talk a bit about your design. How many children can fit in your school? Can it be modified for areas that have a bigger population? 

Each classroom is a pairing of two types of rooms — an elevated formal space and a semi-outdoor space. Each “classroom” fits 50 students, and the semi-outdoor area fits an additional 50. So although we are building the school for 150 children, we could actually fit 300, while we fund-raise and built the next rooms.

The school is designed to be multi-functional and flexible. It will be working throughout the day to house the students and their regular classes, and then at night it will be the venue for adult education, such as vocational training in entrepreneurship and design, and workshops on disaster preparedness. With this model, we hope that the school will be able to serve as many members of the community as possible.

Copy of Structure1How exactly have you made your design typhoon-resistant for future storms in the area? 

The school will be constructed exclusively with indigenous materials, particularly bamboo. Bamboo is a material that has been proven to withstand strong winds through its ability to bend with them. The foundation will be solid concrete, with a bamboo shell. We are reinforcing the bamboo with steel structure and have masonry walls dispersed in the structure to give it rigidity while allowing air flow. The walls will be porous and made from woven screens, also allowing strong winds to flow through and not break them. The floors of the school are elevated, to allow for minimal damage from flooding.

Copy of Structure3 1000If someone were interested in building the same design in another part of the country, would that be possible? How could they do so? 

This is our hope! We fully intend for the first school in Bohol to be a prototype and based on lessons learned, we will expand to other sites in the Visayas region. We are identifying sites in typhoon Haiyan hit areas to rebuild our new schools. We have a local team on the ground to implement the designs.

Copy of Bamboo Model 1 1000How does the price of building your school compare to the building of other public Philippine schools in the country? What makes your design better?

The cost are comparable.  I think our design is more suitable to our rural context.  Rather than turn away from our traditional architecture, this school design is a step towards, re-working and improving upon our Filipino design.  The classrooms, rather than rigid concrete boxes with G.I. roofing are now adaptable, multi-function classrooms using our own traditional materials in a modern way.

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 9.26.43 PMWhy the decision to use Kickstarter to help fund your project?

Many people want to donate but are often unsure where their money would be best used and not mishandled or go to unending administrative costs. 100% of the funds raised from our campaign are going to construction costs. This is a very tangible and transparent project and on our Kickstarter page you can see exactly where your money is going– for example, a $5 donation will purchase one bag of cement. Proof of its success will be when these kids are safely back in a quality school that you all help build. As a backer, you’ll be able to track the building progress with updates and through our website.

Kickstarter is also an excellent tool to fundraise beyond our circle of contacts. It enables us to reach the international community, particularly the Fil-Am community, and gives them a means to help out from far away.

If you don’t reach your Kickstarter goal, what is your next step? 

We will reach our goal! we believe in the project this much.

I love your attitude! Your Kickstarter campaign mentions that you already have the funds to build your first classroom, how is that going? 

We are waiting to get all the funding together to reduce costs. We have a generous donation from SGV Philippines to build our first classroom. We have prototyped our bamboo trusses.

Copy of 04_Afterhours Class 1650Who has ClassAct partnered with for the vocational schools in the evening? What is the goal for these night classes? 

Pam and Winston Damarillo are our educational component for this project. They run a tech company out in California and are dedicated to raising tech literacy throughout the Philippines.  We are also working on a partnership with the Philippine government (TESDA) to see if they can run vocational courses in our school.

Copy of 03_During Hours 2550Aside from donating funds, are there other ways people can help ClassAct?

We are always welcoming volunteers. We need people during construction, and as the ClassAct Foundation is running the after-hours curriculum , volunteers to assist with our vocational classes.

Copy of 12_Classroom Informal 1650How can schools and companies work together with ClassAct for future projects? 

The success of our project will rely on public-private partnership.  We would love sponsorship of building classrooms, or towards building materials or towards operational costs.

Copy of 11_Classroom Formal 1650Is there anything else you’d like to add? 

After this unprecedented disaster, emergency relief was quick and plentiful to pour in from all over the world. But as the news coverage has been steadily dying down, we tend to forget that the rebuilding effort will be carrying on for a very long time, long after the immediate resources are exhausted. Schools are often the least prioritized infrastructure in rebuilding efforts, so students are currently still hearing their lessons in unsafe makeshift tents. That is the real and current situation. We’re eager to get them back into a proper school where they belong, and with your help we will do so! Investing in this project is investing in the community’s future success.

There are only TEN days left to help ClassAct reach their Kickstarter goal. Please head to their page to see how you can help. 

For more information about the ClassAct Foundation, please check out their:

Website | Facebook Page | Twitter | Kickstarter

UPDATE: ClassAct has just informed me that they have reached their Kickstarter goal! But any additional funds will help go to  funding their third classroom!