In Quezon City, ‘bamboo houses’ shelter children with disabilities

MANILA, Philippines – Nine-year-old Warren Tan smiled from ear to ear when he visited their new house in Barangay Bagong Silangan, Quezon City. 

Beaming with the excitement of a boy receiving a new toy, Warren checked out the new space that his family can truly call home.

Warren has cerebral palsy. Because of his special condition, it was sometimes difficult for his family to live with relatives in a cramped space in Barangay Payatas. They also had to share in the household expenses.

“Magagawa na niya iyong gusto niyang gawin na walang limit (Now, he can do whatever he wants without limit) ,” said Warren’s mother, Lisa Lloren.

He's sometimes very hyper that he gets into a fight with his cousins. It's also getting hard to co-habit with our relatives. We share the household expenses because we are living with my parents and siblings. Now, our expenses will be minimized because it’s just the 3 of us,” she said in Filipino. 

Having a child with a disability (CWD) can be challenging for any parent, and is doubly challenging for poor parents. This is why the Vincentian Foundation prioritized families with CWDs as their beneficiaries for their transitional housing project.

Father Gerald Borja, Board Director of the Foundation, said that CWDs need decent houses the most because of their special needs. In his years of community service for the PWDs in Payatas, Borja said they saw that the families need intervention beyond free food and medicine. Livable homes, he said, can help them escape the “spiral” of hardship they are caught in. 

“Gusto namin na magspiral out siya doon kasi nakikita namin na isa sa root cause ng poverty is wala silang access sa mga resources ng gobyerno. Wala silang hanapbuhay at 'yung inuuwian nila ay talagang hindi conducive sa isang pamilya at sa isang tao,” he said. 

(We want them to spiral out from poverty because we see that the root of poverty is the lack of access to government resources. They don’t have livelihood and they come home to a house that is not conducive to a family or an individual.)  

Social preparation 

A total of 25 transitional houses were built in the foundation’s Quezon City lot near Batasan Hills. Beneficiaries will be allowed to stay in the houses for 15 to 25 years until they are able to pay for their own house and lot. 

The Vincentian Foundation will assist the families set up social enterprises and link them with possible employment as part of their community building efforts. Their contract with the foundation includes the mandatory contribution of a portion of their salary that will be saved in the coming years. 

Borja said they chose to place these families in a temporary but decent shelter to prepare them socially and financially. 

Continued employment is a number one problem for informal settlers relocated to government housing projects. This situation gives the family a sense of feeling helpless and trapped. They are also unprepared to be uprooted from their original homes. 

“What happens in government housing projects is that they only grant shelter. But one very important component we saw is the need for social preparation,” Borja said in Filipino. 

The foundation hopes to develop the beneficiaries to become more productive members of society by helping them find lucrative livelihood and develop community spirit inside the site. 

“It’s difficult to place them in the mainstream set up immediately so we saw that the organizing will have to happen at this level,” Borja said.  

Bamboo houses 

To build the houses, the group partnered with another non-profit organization, Base Bahay, that uses bamboo poles in building homes. . 

“Bamboo is very strong if we use it properly; if treated properly. From a plant, we take out only the mature bamboo poles. We know that bamboo is not a tree but a grass so it keeps on growing. You don’t need to kill the whole plant to harvest one bamboo pole,” explained Base Bahay General Manager Marisen Jalandoni. 

The bamboo poles they harvest are treated to make them pest-resistant. They are then set up into pre-fabricated panels using a special connection system they devised that could withstand an earthquake and a typhoon, said Jalandoni.  

Unlike state-initiated projects, Base Bahay engaged their beneficiaries in their planning and even the construction stage. Families gave their own inputs about the design, for instance.

“They said they want to have a house that looks like the [ones in] subdivisions they see on TV. As you can see, the houses here are very colorful,” Jalandoni said. 

Employment opportunities were also opened for residents since they are hired for the project.  Depending on their skill level, the organization teaches them construction know-hows that they may also use for other jobs after construction ends.   

The Vincentian Foundation is just one of Base Bahay’s partners but it is the latter's first site in Metro Manila. Base Bahay, which is also in talks with some local government units to adopt this technology, hopes the cement-bamboo frame technology could be mainstreamed and used at a larger scale for a greener approach in building socialized housing for the poor. –

Patty Pasion

Patty leads the Rappler+ membership program. She used to be a Rappler multimedia reporter who covered politics, labor, and development issues of vulnerable sectors.