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Forty Students Complete Habitat for Humanity Building Technology Workshops in Vanuatu

December 2, 2004

VANUATU, 2nd December 2004: Forty students have successfully completed two Habitat for Humanity Vanuatu workshops on an innovative concrete block production technology that could revolutionize the construction of low-cost housing in Vanuatu.

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Brick by brick: Students making blocks during the workshops

The new technology will save approximately one-fifth on the cost of cement used in the average house build, which will reduce construction costs. This will help to reach HFH Vanuatu’s target of US$ 4,000 per house - halving the figure from US$8,000.

Twenty-two students, most of whom are managers or trainers at different Vanuatu Rural Training Centers, graduated on Friday 27th November. They joined 17 more graduates - mostly disadvantaged teenagers - who completed a similar workshop the previous week.

The workshop participants learned how to make and lay Concrete Interlocking Blocks (CIB), and how to produce pre-cast concrete door and window frames.

John Morobon, from the Morobian Rural Training Center in Wowo village in northwest Malakula, said, “I plan to make community workshops for all the managers in the seven rural training centers in Malakula.” He also said he is eager to return home with the new technology knowledge and begin training others. He reiterated that there is an urgent need for low-cost housing in Malakula.

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Eliezer Vicente D. Banares, who led the Habitat workshops, developed the CIB technology along with two other staff members from HFH Philippines. The technology has been used successfully to build 2,000 low-cost homes in The Philippines and ten three-story apartment buildings. As in Vanuatu, The Philippines have powerful earthquakes and seasonal cyclones and the new technology has proven to be safe there.

Banares said, “This is a technology that even those without prior building skills, including women and young people, can easily learn to use.”

Vivian Licht, a life skills co-ordinator with the Vanuatu Cultural Center, said she participated in the project because she felt it would allow her to offer practical technical assistance to disadvantaged young people and their families. Licht found it simple to make the blocks during the workshop. From a woman’s perspective, she said the CIB technology is ideal in many ways. “I can see mothers in local village communities sitting on their mats outside, working with their children to produce blocks for their own homes,” she said.

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HFH Vanuatu will provide one block mold for each rural training center participant to use on the outer islands to promote this new technology.

Tabisap Elia, an instructor at the Vanuatu Institute of Technology (VIT) who successfully completed the workshops, said the technology was exciting because it is cheaper than using regular hollow concrete blocks and extremely user-friendly. He plans to add the technical skills he learned at the workshops to the curriculum he currently teaches at VIT. Elia said, “This will be good for Vanuatu because it is cheap and safe, and anyone can easily build a house using this technology.”

The project is funded with donations from several sources. It is part of a 1.2 million Vatus (US$11,189) grant from the European Union in Vanuatu. The German Embassy in Australia also gave 4,300 Euros (US$5,724) to be used for the purchase of block molds and carpentry tools for Habitat Building Center. The International Women’s Club in Port Vila purchased one block mold and one was donated by Vanda Marine, which constructed some of the molds for use in the workshops. In addition, the CIB project is supported by a grant of 60,000 Vatus (US$560) from Mr. Barry Bailey, General Manager of QBE Insurance (Vanuatu) Limited.

Banares, who has 16 years of construction experience, explained that the CIB technology is easier to use because the blocks do not require continual leveling like hollow concrete blocks. Hollow concrete blocks must be constantly leveled as they are set in place, but because mortar is not used between concrete interlocking blocks, this is eliminated. In the CIB technology, the blocks are joined by steel rebar and concrete poured through holes inside the blocks.

This new technology saves considerable costs on sand and cement. A bag of cement costs between 900 and 1,000 Vatus in Vanuatu (approximately US$9). In comparison, a same-size bag cost an equivalent of about 300 Vatus in the Philippines (approximately US$3). It is hoped that the CIB technology will be part of the solution to poverty housing in Vanuatu.