UNSW students build sustainable housing in Cambodia

UNSW students partner with global engineering giant Cundall and sustainable projects charity RAW Impact to design and build homes in developing countries

The students show off what they've built for the community. Credit  Karen Coulstock (www.karencoulstockphotography.com.au)

UNSW students undertaking the Sustainable Energy for Developing Countries course in the School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering are designing buildings and passive energy solutions for the developing world, then seeing their designs come to life. This year the project resulted in two new houses tailor-built for a remote community in Cambodia.

Following their designs from the classroom to Cambodia

"The students get the opportunity to work shoulder to shoulder with professionals," says Dr Anna Bruce, postgraduate coursework coordinator at the School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering (SPREE). "Not just during the design and planning but also in the field where they're making adjustments to the design in response to local conditions."

Keeping it real

"There are several things that make this real for the students," says Alistair Coulstock from Cundall. "They're designing something that could actually get built, but importantly, the course emulates the standard tendering process in the construction industry."

In-the-field experience is supplied by Troy Roberts and his experienced local team of builders from RAW Impact, a Cambodian-based charity championing human rights and social change.

Although there is no requirement for students to travel, Bruce believes the wider benefits of the experience for students, both personally and for their careers, is significant. "It's very empowering for students to make a useful contribution by doing actual engineering work, as well as gaining insights into the lives of people in developing countries."

Inspiring change

Emma Hollo, a 24-year-old Photovoltaic Engineering/Commerce student, undertook the course before travelling to Cambodia to help bring the project to fruition. “It was really refreshing and motivating to be working on a real project that could directly contribute to the development of a community,” Emma says. “The house construction was an awesome building experience and the trip has inspired me on a new career and life path. I would like to work for an NGO or in renewable energy projects in developing countries in the future.”

Into the future

Following the success of the first project, a second has already begun. The collaboration between UNSW, Cundall and RAW Impact will continue and in January 2015 a multipurpose building will be constructed at Ko Ki village, about six hours' north-east of Phnom Penh.

There are already more than 60 students enrolled in the course so it doesn't look like there'll be a labour shortage. Charlie Davis is looking forward to the experience already. "I'm hoping I can help improve the quality of life for the villagers in Ko Ki, and understand more about the daily challenges they face," he says. 

More information:

Visit RAW Impact to find out more and join the next expedition – all volunteers welcome: Collaborative Future Cambodia  Build Against the Traffick 

Interested in doing the course? Sustainable Energy for Developing Countries Course outline

Global engineering giant: Cundall

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