Opportunities for bricklayers and trainers to make a direct difference to the health of a needy community don’t come along too often. In addition, the chance to travel overseas offering your skills and training; to experience the culture and get close to the locals, working as part of an expert team, is very special.
Bricklaying teacher at Swinburne TAFE, Matt O’Brien has just come back from such an experience in Cicau Village, in Cikarang, West Java, Indonesia working for a week to provide improved water and sanitation to the local primary school. Out of the blue, a request came to Swinburne TAFE for bricklaying expertise to support the international charitable venture known as ‘Community Plumbing Challenge’ backed up by two other highly strategic partners.
As an adjunct to providing water and sanitation, the team needed someone to lead and train local vocational students on bricklaying, rendering and tiling, so the TAFE bricklaying teacher was the perfect choice.
Matt explained to me how they addressed the dire needs of the school community:
“The partners choose a location where they can change the hygiene and sanitisation in a community by improving the plumbing standards in that area. Cikarang, West Java was the destination this year.
The project was to give the Primary School access to clean water at all times, with improved toilet and handwashing facilities plus a new wastewater and drainage system. Before our work, the water supply came on for four hours a day if at all, which means when they run out of clean water, they need to use water pumped from a risky nearby dam which has caused some children to become very ill.
The assignment included increasing the number of toilets from four to eight and completely renovating them, to install a septic tank and install water tanks to store water so when the water supply is off they still have access to clean water.”
The school building required the construction of a brick wall and covered verandah with tiled walkway to house wash basins. Aussie plumbers provided by PICAC Vic (see below) and Matt’s team were assisted by local vocational students eager to have the training experience.
“The organisational group, the primary students and their teachers were so friendly and grateful, it was a real experience and I’d jump at the opportunity to be involved again. There were numerous entertaining performances from the students and generally we were made to feel very welcome. The Challenge team had conducted a range of lessons in good hygiene and were well primed for our appearance.”
I asked Matt about bricklaying, given the humid conditions and different materials:
“Bricklaying in Indonesia and Asia in general has its challenges as the materials are completely different to those in Australia. The sand is more like a concrete mix. Mixed with cement it is basically concrete and in the warm and humid conditions you can only prepare enough mortar that can be used quickly. The bricks are hand-made and can vary in size by up to 15mm which made a single brick pier challenging to say the least. As they say over there, ‘render will fix it’ hence, the majority of brickwork is rendered.
After trialling ways of trying to make the ‘mortar’ last longer, I eventually made up a sieve with which we were able eliminate the larger stones over 8mm. This enabled us to use the mortar more quickly, having fewer stones in it.”
“I had a team of vocational students, guys and girls, assigned to me, all of whom were enthusiastic talented and good spirited workers, as you’ll see here.
For cultural reasons we also had to wear pants which were not ideal for the conditions. All clothing was literally wet after an hour or so.”
Here’s some background on the sponsors involved if you’d like to check them out:
Community Plumbing Challenge is initiated by the charity International Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Foundation (IWSH) and is supported in this instance and in our region by the Plumbing Industry Climate Action Centre (PICAC Vic), and the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) via PT. IAPMO Group Indonesia.
As IWSH explains on its website, it serves as a conduit for the international Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) community with specific focus on the role of the Plumbing Industry in leading community collaborations and educational exchange. The vision of IWSH is to promote access to improved water and sanitation services in underdeveloped or water stressed parts of the world by building the capacity of these industry sectors.
PICAC, as a member of the World Plumbing Council has as a key objective to improve public health and safeguard the environment and, as such, has partnered with IWSH in projects like this one, around the world in India, South Africa and elsewhere. While IWSH is the lead contributor, the project is financially supported by these partners and others, with Swinburne TAFE contributing to making Matt’s involvement possible.
Great work Matt. We hope you get the chance again and that other brickies follow in your footsteps. Many more images can be seen here.
Senior Field Officer – ABBTF Vic