The Annual International Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence
Berkeley Prize 2024

[ID:1860] Bayanihan Caravan: The Key to Reviving the Filipino Identity through Helping Disaster Victims


“I was scared when the storm came because the wind and the waves were so strong. The flood washed away my things and my notebooks and my pad papers, pencil, my bag. I felt so cold. We were so hungry. Our house was destroyed.” - Edward, 7; Typhoon Fengshen victim

On June 20, 2008, tropical cyclone Frank (Fengshen) passed over the Philippines with heavy rain and sustained winds of up to 160 kph. More than 3,000,000 people across 48 provinces, including 320,000 people in Iloilo and Capiz were reported to be affected. The Philippine National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) also noted that more that 300,000 homes were destroyed. In December 2006, Typhoon Durian struck Southern Luzon damaging 108,945 homes and destroying 39,955 houses. Three years after the aftermath of Typhoon Durian, many Bicolanos are still living in temporary shelters.

The Philippines is located in the Pacific ring of fire and the typhoon belt. It is therefore host to a variety of calamities: an average of 20 typhoons annually, the occasional earthquake and the inevitable volcanic eruption. At this rate, an average of 2,000,000 people are left homeless every year. Each disaster that hits the country leaves countless Filipinos homeless. Churches and school buildings are commonly used to accommodate those displaced. As more people are displaced, more public structures are used as evacuation centers. If the situation has not been resolved in due time, some citizens are forced to squat and use the streets as their only place to sleep. The practice of making these public structures available to calamity victims put on hold community activities and schooling until the victims are able to rebuild their homes.

Tracing Back our History

If today rebuilding a home after being destroyed by a tropical cyclone is a problem, a hundred years back it wasn't. Before concrete became the material of choice in building construction, Filipinos built their homes using mainly bamboo and a native palm frond called nipa. The houses were raised on stilts to protect the occupants from insects and flood which are plagues of a tropical environment. The indigenous tribesmen tied the bamboo together using rattan, another kind of palm until they formed a sturdy frame. The nipa fronds were laid closely together and similarly tied to the bamboos comprising the roofing membrane making it leak-proof. The nipa hut is lightweight but heavy stones are stacked at the bottom to support the stilts that hold the house for better resistance to earthquake. When a storm made landfall the damaged house was easily rebuilt by tying the bamboos anew and replacing the nipa roofing.

Building on stilts had other practical uses aside from protection against insects and floods. It not only improved the internal quality of the air inside the home but also facilitated the transfer of the house to another place in case the family decided to relocate.

Ani Rosa Almario describes how Bayanihan is done: “Community members volunteer to help a family move to a new place. [People] carry the house to its new location by forming a strong frame using bamboo poles and using this frame to lift a house's stilts from the ground. The town's men then position themselves at the ends of each pole, and carry the house on their shoulders. The family who owns the house being transported usually hosts a small fiesta to show their gratitude for those who helped carry their house.”

Losing the Tradition

When the Spanish arrived in the Philippines in the late 1600’s, they introduced a new building technique which became a celebrated architecture in the country during their colonization. The art of home building was reinvented with the use of stone and cement. After more than 300 years of Spanish colonization, came the Americans who again introduced other styles of Architecture. The Filipinos were so easily influenced by the Western Civilization that somehow, they almost forgot where they came from.

At the dawn of the new millennium come the new trends, new styles of architecture and technology. Citizens became more self-centered and materialistic as they indulge in imported goodness. Citizens cared less about their fellowmen and more about themselves even in times of crisis.

Home for the homeless

"It takes the littlest strength to start to build a nation.

One little heart to start to feel the suffering of the world.

It takes a single hand to start a touch and believe in everyone" - Liza C. Faunillan, composer

Organizations like Gawad Kalinga and Habitat for Humanity have helped, but this help has not been enough and commensurate to the immensity of the emergency. The complexity of the problem is so big but resources are scarce.

Gawad Kalinga (GK) when translated in English means “to give care”. This organizations objective is to solve “the blatant problem of poverty not just in the Philippines but in the world. GK’s vision for the Philippines is a slum-free, squatter-free nation through a simple strategy of providing land for the landless, homes for the homeless, food for the hungry and as a result providing dignity and peace for every Filipino.” Together with its partners, Gawad Kalinga is now in the process of transforming poverty stricken areas with the goal of building 700,000 homes in 7 years (2003-2010). To date Gawad Kalinga is in over 900 communities all over the Philippines and in other developing countries.

Habitat for Humanity Philippines “builds and rehabilitates simple, decent houses with the help of homeowners (known as "homepartner") families, volunteer labor, and donations of money and materials.” Habitat for Humanity Philippines has achieved the construction and rehabilitation of 19,592 houses so far.

Hope for the Disaster Victims

"We have traveled around and saw the faces of disaster: Mud, broken posts, no electric power, no water supply, communications not available for outside people to know what’s happening.... What comes to my mind is: Where are the children? How are they?" -Elnora Avarientos; Executive Director, World Vision Philippines

While Gawad Kalinga and Habitat for Humanity Philippines, some of the leading organizations in nation-building, have helped thousands of people rebuild their lives in their new homes, their focus on a slum-free environment and rehabilitating decent homes has still left hundreds of disaster victims homeless.

It is time to give attention to the needy who suffered from nature’s wrath. We propose to form an establishment that provides homes to those that have none and gives hope to those who have lost it; making the Philippines’ disaster-stricken communities recover the spirit of communal unity. As an institution, it brings to life the lost spirit of unity and creates stability and protection that the citizens, especially the homeless, so deserve. The Filipino spirit of communal unity is embodied in this symbol of hope, the Bayanihan Caravan, an organization built on trust, love and unity.

The Bayanihan Caravan is a disaster response mechanism of the people by the people for the people. It focuses on helping the people who were left homeless due to the tropical cyclones that affect the whole nation. It will especially target areas prone to tropical storms like Bicol, Aurora, Leyte, Batanes and other regions that are close to the Pacific Ocean. The Bayanihan Caravan will have medical facilities, classrooms, training grounds and other spaces for interaction.

A Moment of Healing

Inspired by the Fujian Houses from China, we envision the Bayanihan Caravan to look like a safety station that looks out for disaster victims that have lost their homes. The Bayanihan Caravan’s purpose is not only to help rebuild the lost homes of the victims but also to help them regain their physical, emotional and mental pain. Medical facilities will serve as emergency areas to those who are wounded. There will also be rehabilitation rooms for those who are emotionally wounded. Most victims do not only lose their homes and material possessions, but also their loved ones. An opportunity for physical and emotional healing is essential in these times of crisis. One significant facet to achieve this development is healing through sharing. To provide areas for confiding and sharing, we shall establish spaces that encourage interaction. This space, symbolizing a motherly embrace, is central and circular in plan to show unity of the people and to give a welcoming feeling of home. Here, victims especially children can interact with other families to share and relate with each other their experience therefore helping mend the wounds of a broken soul. This spacious courtyard will not only be an area for interaction but also a space for relaxation. It will feature many pocket gardens where individuals can have time to contemplate and dwell on the things of the past, what they have at present and what they can do in the future.

Bayanihan in Action: A Learning Experience

“We need help. We need buildings to be reconstructed,” - Corazon Gasgas, Grade 5 teacher

The Bayanihan Caravan will bear fruit of a "modernized" nipa hut for the displaced victims. The process of building a nipa hut takes only a few hours. Volunteers will be asked to take part in the reconstruction of the homes. The volunteers will be composed mostly of indigenous people who are "experts" in building the traditional nipa hut. These volunteers will then teach the typhoon victims on how to build a nipa hut using traditional technology so they can help in reconstructing their damaged homes. With this, it is not only the Bayanihan Spirit that will be kept alive but also the traditional technology supposedly passed on to us from generation to generation by our ancestors. The new houses that will be installed for the displaced families will make use of indigenous materials abundant in the province like bamboo and use recycled materials from the “destroyed houses” caused by the storm. When the victims have finished their own homes, they will be asked to take part on another endeavor: helping other people who might be affected by another disaster in the future. This process or cycle of helping one after another symbolizes the Bayanihan nature in the hearts of a Filipino. It revives the values of communal unity and volunteerism that citizens need in times of crisis.

An area of the large courtyard will also serve as training grounds for teaching the traditional technique of constructing a nipa hut. The Bayanihan Caravan will feature additional classrooms for lecturing other volunteers. These areas will feature a special section where it will serve as an educational area for children as they watch and learn from their elders and volunteers in building a nipa hut.

A Home Away from Home

"A little bit more, can help a child in need

A little bit more, can help a friend if you please

A little bit more, can carry someone another mile

A little bit more, can make you earn that smile" - Casie Villarosa, musician

Being away from a place where one was always used to being around in, it is hard to cope up with another place one is entirely new with. It takes time for a sense of familiarity to sink in one’s heart. Internal spaces will compose of large interactive areas to create a feeling of home inside the Bayanihan Caravan. It will feature a central dining, living and kitchen areas where all families can get together and socialize with each other. The walls will be of cool, calm and vibrant colors to give a feeling of joy and a safety stay.

In the upper floors, the Bayanihan Caravan houses sleeping areas where families can stay temporarily while their house is being built. This area will not only serve as a sleeping area but as a place where one family can bond and somehow forget the worries that was caused by the storm. Every room will have a balcony where families can find an area for relaxation. Overlooking the balcony is the large courtyard where one can see happy children, families and volunteers working together to bond, to build, and to heal each others wounds. Additional rooms will be provided for the indigenous volunteers.

The Bayanihan Caravan will be an institution spread out throughout the nation; stationed at every disaster-prone province so that it will be easier for the organizers to locate the areas where displaced families are.

Reviving Lost Hope and Tradition

“It’s now time to go back and relearn everything that we have unlearned.” –Augusto Villalon

The goal of the Bayanihan Caravan is not only to rebuild homes of the disaster victims but also to rebuild the lives they have lost, bringing back normalcy to their once distressed lives. This movement decreases the poverty which is so evident in the country and uplifts the dignity of the citizens who almost lost all hope in regaining their lives back.

The Bayanihan Caravan rebuilds the strong sensibility of unity among people and redefines the Filipinos as a people who love to help others. By providing shelter for other people, citizens learn to take part in a community event and be more involved with the needs of the society. By simply participating and interacting with other families in the community, the citizens create a sense of self-awareness while inculcating in them the values preserved in the social tradition of Bayanihan — hospitality, pakikisama (goodwill in companionship), malasakit (sincere concern for others) and utang na loob (debt of gratitude).

As the western influences and modernity takes on the lives of the Filipinos, they somehow don’t see the need of giving importance to the past. Through the teaching of traditional technology, Filipinos will be able to realize the importance of the past and how it gives a big definition of who we are as a people.

The success of the Bayanihan Caravan will revive the traditional architecture passed on to us by our ancestors and hopefully inspire the Filipinos in bringing back the spirit of communal unity and volunteerism in their hearts.

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