As Principal of Cundall Australia’s Sydney office, the sustainability of large buildings is often on Alistair Coulstock’s mind. But recently that mind has also been occupied with much smaller buildings: new houses for two of Cambodia’s poorest families. Along the way a hands-on learning experience was delivered to Australian university students and their mentors.

Tackling human trafficking

What began as a casual conversation between Alistair and Troy Roberts of charity RAWimpact quickly lead to the birth of “Build Against The Traffick”. The underlying idea is a simple one. Human trafficking, particularly of women and children, is a big problem in Cambodia. If the living conditions of poor families can be improved, it will relieve some of the pressure they are under to sell their children to traffickers. Strange as it may sound, the parents often believe they are doing what’s best for their children. It’s not uncommon for traffickers to lie about providing children with education and a better life.

Build Against The Traffick brought together architects, engineers and students from a range of disciplines at the University of New South Wales. Students set about designing homes suitable for rural Cambodia. This included assessing energy use and investigating passive and active solutions. The culmination of the project took place in January 2014 when 25 volunteers travelled to Cambodia to build the winning designs.

Local input

“Village leaders helped to identify the families most in need of new housing,” says Alistair. “Two local builders were hired to undertake most of the demolition work and construction of the main supports and roofing, and the fathers of the beneficiary families worked with the volunteers on the rest of build.”

Aside from a swing for children to play on, a significant feature of the two houses is that they share a bio-digester. “Just four cowpats and a bucket of water each day and the bio-digester produces enough gas for the two households to cook two meals and to provide some gas lighting,” says Alistair. The gas replaces wood as a cooking fuel, and along with the separation of cooking and living areas, this helps to improve indoor air quality. An additional benefit is gained by connecting the bio-digester to a toilet that serves the two houses.

This project is just the start of the collaboration between the many parties that saw it through. Exhibitors at DesignBUILD 2014 in Melbourne have donated sustainable building materials that will be shipped to Cambodia to build a classroom.

These may be relatively small steps aimed at addressing a big problem, but Build Against The Traffick isn’t alone in helping to alleviate poverty in Cambodia. A key aim of RAWimpact is to provide the means for a wide range of charities to gain more recognition and support for their efforts. And bearing in mind that it all started with a casual conversation, two houses and future classroom look like a fantastic result.

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Alistair Coulstock

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