Meet Our Alumni. Ray Villanueva ‘How Can Bamboo Play A Role In Helping Fight Covid-19?’

We are creating a new series of blog posts to introduce you to the Bamboo U Alumni. Today we introduce you to Ray Villanueva, from the Philippines, who joined us in our Bamboo 11 Day Immersion Course in January 2020. Ray is one of the founders of Kawayan Collective, a treated bamboo supplier who is assuming their role helping the Covid-19 pandemic by making bamboo beds. Keep reading below to get to know him.

Ray, tell us a bit about yourself.

I am an architect licensed in Washington State, USA. I've worked for 10 years in architecture firms doing public projects (schools, libraries, health clinics, municipal buildings) and housing. I'm a first generation Filipino-American and my first move in 2011 to the Philippines was to get to understand my Filipino roots. After an amazing experience, my wife and I have always been looking for the reason to move back. And in November 2018, we moved back with our two kids to start Kawayan Collective.

Why did you start working with Bamboo?

I started working with bamboo in 2012 when I had the opportunity to start a design build program at Foundation University in Dumaguete City, Philippines. In collaboration with Foundation University President Dean Sinco, we started Estudio Damgo, a capstone program wherein senior architecture students design, research, fundraise, and build a community structure during their last year of university. The first year we built a one-room daycare and kindergarten classroom in the mountains outside of the city. Now the program is in its 8th year with many different types of community and public structures built. The natural choice for construction is bamboo since it is abundant, affordable, and embedded in the local culture. During the program, we set up the collaboration with local artisans for training in how to use the material and this is how I fell in love with bamboo. I have also started another bamboo educational program, the Philippines Bamboo Workshop in 2015 at the University of Washington in Seattle.

What is Kawayan Collective?

Kawayan Collective is a treated bamboo supplier in Negros, Philippines. Our objective is to elevate bamboo as a sustainable, durable, beautiful building material for all Filipinos. Our logo is a butterfly because it is a symbol that means many things to us: transformation, propagation and rebirth. It is also a reference to the butterfly effect —that one small change in behavior can ripple to make a big impact.

Our primary customer and launch partner is Base Bahay Foundation. Base, with support from the Hilti Foundation, has done years of research in bamboo and is building social housing using cement bamboo frame technology accredited by the National Housing Authority of the Philippines. Base's goal is to build over 5,000 homes in the next 5 years. Our first year was focused on supplying these projects. Starting this year, we have opened our doors to other customers, products, and projects with the mission to make treated bamboo affordable and accessible to all.

Bamboo U workshops are not only tailored for people studying or working in the fields of design, architecture, engineering, construction, or carpentry, but for anyone inspired by bamboo. In your case, before joining the course you had already built a bamboo treatment facility! Can you tell us about your experience in Bamboo U?

Bamboo U took my understanding of bamboo to the next level. Seeing innovation and craft come together has proved that so much more is possible. I admire the confidence and courage to try things and how Green School, Green Village, Bambu Indah, and Bamboo U campus celebrates the bends, twists and irregularities of every piece of bamboo. The experience will continue to inspire me as we take Kawayan Collective forward. I also feel like I have joined a tribe of people who understand why bamboo is amazing - we have to tell the world that the bamboo revolution is here!

Ray working on his chair project left and the final prototype right at Bamboo U 11 Day Immersion Course January

In response to the circumstances of COVID 19, Kawayan collective is making bamboo beds for patients. What was your impulse to do this?

After processing through the stages of grief during the COVID-19 pandemic, our team has arrived at this prompt: How can bamboo help our community?

We were inspired by front-liners and everybody else pitching in to help. Whether by donating meals, making face shields, or spreading correct information, there is a lot of work to be done. When we saw these huge overflow isolation centers, we thought of all the imported and processed materials that were needed for these essential facilities. We immediately thought bamboo beds would be a much better choice because bamboo is much more sustainable and locally available. In addition, by implementing social distancing guidelines to produce the beds we can safely employ our community during this time of financial hardship.

Temporary isolation facilities for vulnerable populations who have no place to isolate have been set up in local high school gymnasiums. Thanks to unsolicited donations, and support from our local mayor and government agency partners, Kawayan Collective has been able to keep operating 3-days a week for the past 7 weeks to support our community's healthcare infrastructure.

How can people get involved?

Kawayan Collective is now fundraising to operate 5-days a week building bamboo beds for these isolation facilities. Twenty beds have been donated so far with another forty to to be produced in the next two weeks. And we are partnering with local bamboo furniture makers to meet the demand.

The Kawayan Collective team is happy to play a part in fighting the pandemic!  We just kicked off a fundraising site for those who wish to donate. Thank you for lending your support via money or message by sharing this story. Our entire team at Kawayan Collective is motivated by your generosity and support.

Donate a Bamboo Bed Fundraising

Kawayan Collective Instagram

We have more than 500 alumni around the world making a difference ‘one bamboo pole at a time’. Join the tribe of Bamboo U! Check out our next Bamboo courses.

About the author
Leticia García Robles | Author

Industrial designer with a strong background in bamboo construction and communications.

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