Block Schools & Block Homes: Your Questions Answered.

We’ve been receiving a lot of inquiries about Blocks. Here are the answers to your most common questions.

How many Block Schools and Block Homes are being constructed by Classroom of Hope?

Classroom of Hope plans to build 11 Block Schools and 10 Block Homes as part of the capacity building and knowledge transfer stage. After completing the factory, we will raise funds to build 200 Block Schools and 4000 Block Homes.

When will the factory be built in Indonesia?

The factory in Indonesia will be built by Q4 2022.

How long does it take to build a Block building?

Depending on how much labour is applied, a classroom can be built in 5-8 hours. A Block Home can be built in 2 days.

What is the cost of a classroom and home made from recycled plastic Blocks?

Initially, while Blocks are imported from Finland, the cost per classroom will be approximately USD 12,000- 14,000 and the cost per home will be USD 13,000 -15,000. When the Block Factory is built in Indonesia, we anticipate that the cost per classroom will be roughly USD 8,000 – 10,000 and the cost per home will be roughly USD 5,000 – 7,000 because blocks will be produced locally rather than imported.

How many tons of plastic waste does Classroom of Hope plan to recycle?

It takes 1-2 tons of recycled plastic to build a classroom and a Block Home, respectively. Based on these numbers, we estimate that 6900 tons of plastic waste will be recycled through our Lombok projects.

Where will the plastic waste come from?

Once the factory is built, all plastic will be sourced from Indonesia. Until then, we are sourcing Blocks from Finland-based company Block Solutions, which has been sourcing plastic from Europe.

What type of plastic is used to make Blocks?


How are the Blocks produced?

The Blocks are produced using an injection moulding process that injects liquid recycled plastic into the moulds. One Block can be produced in one minute.

Do these building get very hot?

The building materials used do not conduct heat. Therefore, these classrooms are one degree lower compared to those built with conventional materials.

What are the fire risks associated with the plastic Blocks?

Block Solutions have undergone testing with their product following NFPA 251 standard test method. The test successfully met the requirements of the test standard for fire resistance for 60 minutes. This 1-hour fire rating is achieved by using 40 mm rockwool and gypsum covering.

Will the establishment of a plastic Blocks factory also get rid of plastic waste from other countries?

Our objective is to fight plastic pollution in Indonesia, and our partnership will build a Block Solutions factory in-country. The waste used to make the plastic Blocks will exclusively come from Indonesia.

Can I buy Blocks?

COH and Block Solutions Indonesia are not yet in a position to sell Blocks to individuals or businesses outside of our project scope. When the Block Solutions factory is built in Lombok, Indonesia (Q4 2022) we will begin to open up sales for Blocks. Block Solutions Indonesia is a commercial social enterprise and will produce and sell Blocks based on capacity and production utilization after the factory is finished.

Are Block Schools and Block Homes Earthquake resistant?

Block Solution Modular Building Units with less mass (more than 100 times lighter than reinforced concrete) have several advantages. One of the advantages related to its lightweight, in addition to speedy construction, is its seismic design. Based on the fact that seismic forces are inertia forces resulting from accelerating mass, the lower the mass of the building, the lower the seismic design forces. Due to its ultra-lightweight, even during extreme conditions, such as parts of Block Solution units falling due to unexpected large seismic forces, these falling parts will have a minimum harmful effect on the building occupants. Read more.

Letter of Intent

What does it mean…and why are we so excited?

Monday 1st November 2021 was a historic day for Classroom of Hope. A Letter of Intent was signed between Classroom of Hope, our partner Block Solutions, our investors, the Government of Nusa Tenggara Barat and representatives from the Australian Consulate and Finnish Embassy.

The official signing ceremony took place at the second Block School, Sigar Penjalin.

The signing of the Letter Of Intent is an official announcement to all key stakeholders that we (the signers) intend to work together to build Asia’s first Block Solutions factory in Lombok, Indonesia in 2022.

The building of a Block Solutions Factory in Indonesia is something that we’ve posted about for months but worked towards for the last 2 years… and this Letter of Intent is the first milestone in making it a reality! We expect everything will kick off in high gear from here, culminating in the implementation and building of Asia’s first Block factory by mid-2022.

The land where the Block Solutions Factory will be built in Lombok, Indonesia.

With a Block Solutions factory in Lombok, we will be able to begin producing building blocks made out of recycled plastic waste sourced locally from Lombok. This means…

  • The recycled plastic used to create the Blocks will be rescued from the shores of Lombok, addressing Indonesia’s plastic waste crisis directly.
  • The cost of each Block classroom will drop significantly, since we will no longer have to pay for the blocks to be imported from the Block Solutions Factory in Finland.
  • The building of a Block Solutions Factory in Lombok will bring jobs and a green economy boost to the island.

With the amazing show of support from the Nusa Tenggara Barat government as well as the Australian and Finnish governments, Classroom of Hope and our local partner Yayasan Classroom of Hope Indonesia are closer than ever to embarking on our goal of building 200+ Block Schools on Lombok and expanding this amazing sustainable technology throughout Indonesia and Southeast Asia.

Eco-Block Schools: Continuing our education mission while cleaning up the environment.

It was over a year in the making. 18 months to be exact. Until finally, last month, the time came to build the first-ever “Eco-Block School” we’ve been speaking and dreaming about for months. A first-ever not only for Classroom of Hope, but also for the earthquake-devastated island of Lombok, Indonesia, and for our partner Block Solutions, the inventors behind the technology that takes plastic waste and turns it into blocks, which then turn into buildings and, in this case, a brand new school.

When doing anything for the first time, there are lessons to be learned, challenges to overcome. This project was no exception. We’ll spare you the nitty-gritty details about 18 months of emails, zoom calls, meetings with local government officials, logistics, budgeting, and fundraising it took to pull this thing off. However, a little bit of background information may be helpful for you to understand how this all came together.

It started with an email that a friend of ours sent with a link to an article about schools being built in Africa from recycled plastic waste. From this moment, a seed was planted and our founder, Duncan Ward, began researching how we too could start building schools while also removing plastic from the environment. Eventually, Block Solutions came to our attention. A Finland-based company that builds low-income housing projects in Africa with their recycled plastic block technology. Their Eco-Blocks are comprised of various forms of recycled plastic, such as PET plastic bottles and PP plastic, which are washed and broken down into granules and then mixed with wood fibers before being processed into an injection molding machine to create the Eco-Blocks. Block Solutions had not yet used their technology to build a school when we first began our conversations with them, but there was no reason it could not be done!

It was decided that the location for the first-ever Eco-Block School would be in Taman Sari, a small earthquake devastated village in Lombok, Indonesia. Lombok was rocked by a series of major earthquakes throughout 2018, which killed 563 people, displaced more than 417,000, and destroyed over 400 schools. In the aftermath of the earthquakes, Classroom of Hope supported the building of 23 Pop-Up Schools with our local partner Pelita Foundation, which helped approximately 4,000 children get back into education.

Pop-Up School at Taman Sari

The Pop-Up Schools were a temporary measure. There was still an urgent need to get thousands of children back into permanent schools. With so much rebuilding left to be done on Lombok, it was obvious that the island would be home to the Eco-Block School pilot project. Moreover, since many children and parents were left feeling scared and traumatised after the earthquakes it made sense that we would rebuild using Eco-Blocks which are lightweight and designed to be earthquake-resistant due to their elasticity. 

After months of preparation, working closely with Block Solutions, our local partner Pelita Foundation, and the Lombok Regional Government, it was time to start preparing the site at Taman Sari. In late March 2021, volunteer local community members demolished the damaged and temporary classrooms at Taman Sari to make space for the permanent structure.

Demolition of the damaged and temporary classrooms done voluntarily by local members of the community.

By mid-April, a building team from South Lombok started to work on the foundation and extended the floor space to accommodate the new five classroom school. The crew continued to work on the floor area foundation and also on the steps and retaining wall until the end of May 2021.

The construction crew working on the floor area foundation.

By early June the site was ready for the Eco-Blocks which arrived in Lombok on 7 June 2021. The local community worked together to move all the blocks to the site. On 9 June 2021, the metal u beam, which would support the blocks, was laid and the first layer of blocks was assembled by the local contractors with leadership and guidance from Block Solutions Chief Technology Officer, Toni Kontkanen. Toni flew from Finland to Indonesia to instruct and guide the local construction team in building the first-ever school built with Block Solutions technology.

Toni from Block Solutions and the local construction team work together to set the foundation. Photo by Kristina Buckingham.

It took over a day to ensure the foundation was completely level and then five days to assemble the blocks into the first earthquake-resistant, five-classroom, Eco-Block School. The structure of the school was made from 15 tonnes of recycled plastic waste, assembles much like Lego, and can last up to 100 years.

The structure and roof of the school complete. Photo by Kristoffer Trondsen

Although the structure was complete in less than a week, the construction team still had work to do to prepare the school to open in July. It took two more weeks to finish the details and aesthetic of the school which included tiling, plastering, painting, and installing ceilings, lighting, fans and whiteboards.

The school was completely finished on 3 July 2021. At this stage, schools in Lombok are closed due to the coronavirus. The school will serve 132 students and 12 teachers once restrictions lift.

The success of our Lombok pilot project is now set to usher a new wave of Eco-Block Schools that is slated to begin construction in the coming months with four more Eco-Block Schools and two homes. Following that, plans are in motion to scale the project with the construction of an Eco-Block factory in Lombok and the incorporation of Block Solutions Indonesia. This means that plastic can be sourced, recycled and blocks manufactured locally, with the added opportunity to be shipped throughout the Indonesian archipelago.

Considering Indonesia is the world’s second-largest plastic polluter, the new Eco-Block solution is hoped to help combat plastic waste management at a grassroots level across Indonesia. Eco-Blocks have the potential to create a major environmental impact and help to create a sustainable choice in construction. By using Block Solutions technology, plastic that currently pollutes oceans, rivers or landfills can be transformed into long-lasting, safe, and affordable homes or schools. Our grand vision is that the factory will inspire other regions of Indonesia to build factories and then across Asia and the world. We feel this technology should be shared so that we can take plastic waste, create value and make an environmental impact!

It’s also important to understand that there is significant economic evidence to support that by building with this new technology we will add value to the Indonesian economy. Take a look at our summary infographic or for a detailed cost-benefit analysis check out this report by our partner Mettalytics Consulting.

Our next big task at Classroom of Hope is raising the funds to build 200 Eco-Block Schools and get children back into education. If you believe in this technology, as we do, then we want to hear from you! We need the right strategic partners who see this as a business opportunity and social investment in the future.

Want to follow along as we embark on our Eco-Block Schools journey? Follow us on social media.

Note: excerpts from this blog were written by Fraser Morton from Far Features

An Update: How our schools and students have been affected by COVID-19

In February and March 2020, schools supported by Classroom of Hope across Indonesia and Southeast Asia were forced to close due to increased numbers of COVID-19 cases. Some countries reopened schools and then closed schools again. Some countries have partially opened schools, while other countries have had their school doors closed for most of the past year. It’s all a little confusing, and if you have had a hard time keeping track of what’s happening with our schools, we can completely understand why. To provide some clarity, we’re going to break it down for you, country by country.

Photo by Geoff Bartlett


On 24th March 2020, Laos confirmed its first two COVID-19 cases, becoming the last Southeast Asian country infected with the coronavirus. On 29th March 2020, the government announced a national lockdown, effective 30th March. Schools closed at this time. On 18th May, restrictions began to loosened and by 2nd June schools reopened and have remained open.


In late March 2020, the virus was confirmed to have reached Myanmar. By April 2020, the Myanmar government-imposed nationwide full lockdown, with strict restrictions on movement, to curb COVID-19 infections. Schools across the country were on school break at this time. In July 2020, 6500 of 7173 secondary schools reopened, one month later than the usual term start date. In September 2020, due to an alarming surge in COVID-19 cases, schools across the country closed again, indefinitely.


In late January 2020, the virus was confirmed to have reached Cambodia. In March 2020, having observed an increase in case numbers of the virus, government-run schools and universities suspended in-person classes and moved all learning online. On 7 September 2020, schools reopened for in-person classes after a six-month closure. In early December, due to a significant increase in cases of the virus, the remainder of the 2020 school year was cancelled. Starting in 2021, schools were reopened again and teaching continues as usual.

Photo by Geoff Bartlett

Challenges for Southeast Asia

The most crucial problem across the region is that school dropout rates are increasing significantly due to COVID-19 since kids are being deployed as labour. According to our local partner, Child’s Dream, bringing these children back into the educational cycle will be an enormous task.

At this stage, Child’s Dream is not able to measure the extent of the dropouts in Myanmar in particular because schools have been closed since September. A reopening is hoped for in June 2021, when the next academic year starts. But this is yet to be confirmed. Additionally, the coup in Myanmar may also have an impact on schools, although at this time it is difficult to estimate what that impact is. The founders of Child’s Dream are in constant communication with their team in Yangon, Myanmar and they are currently safe, but the situation changes by the day. You can read more about the situation in Myanmar in the newsletter Child’s Dream shared with us last week.

Lombok, Indonesia

NOTE: In Indonesia, Classroom of Hope only supports school programs in Lombok through our Pop Up Schools program. Across the multiple Indonesian islands, school closures have varied. To keep you informed on how closures have affected our programs, we will only focus on Lombok.

All school activities closed in February 2020 due to an increase in COVID-19 cases. Currently, we are not certain when schools will fully reopen. This will be decided by the Education Department. Some schools are open but only for the last grade of each level (e.g. 6th, 9th and 12th grades). This is because these grade levels are preparing for the national exams. These students have classes and activities for a maximum of three hours per day. Some of our Pop Up Schools are currently being used for these students.

Photo by Manuel Gussmann

Staying the Course

At Classroom of Hope, we are proceeding with our education mission as usual. Our Building Schools program continues as building services are seen as essential in each country we work in. We will keep you updated about how COVID-19 is affecting our schools and students and how our local partners are navigating their way through these challenging times. Until then, keep safe and thank you for your unwavering support.

Special Update: Myanmar

Our local partner, Child’s Dream, shared this newsletter last week about the coup in Myanmar. We are posting it here for our Classroom of Hope community because we feel it is important for our donors to know how this coup is affecting our local partner and the students and schools we support together.

Myanmar Citizens Need All of Us More Than Ever Before!

Dear Child’s Dream friends,

We would like to update you about the situation in Myanmar. In the early hours of February 1, the Myanmar military, under the leadership of General Min Aung Hlaing, took control of all three branches of government and arrested many elected leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, connected to the National League for Democracy (NLD), which won the elections last November by a landslide. The Myanmar military also immediately declared a year-long state of emergency, but promised free and fair elections afterwards. Hundreds of thousands joined peaceful protests throughout the country, including government employees, demanding the release of their elected leaders and the restoration of democracy. Although the protests are still largely peaceful, the military’s response is becoming more aggressive and heavy-handed, leading to the first casualities.

Luckily, all our staff and the beneficiaries in our numerous projects are still safe, but we are very worried that the situation might escalate and become more violent. Our office in Yangon is temporarily closed and our staff is working from home. All our projects are still running; however, they are taking safety precautions.

The timing of this coup is terrible as Myanmar has already been suffering tremendously from the Covid-19 pandemic. According to a survey by the International Food Policy Research Institute, the poverty level (daily income of less than USD 1.90) increased from 16% in January 2020 to 62% in September 2020 and current events are only accelerating this trend.

The last three weeks since the coup have been very unnerving. Besides the uncertainty of Myanmar’s future, we are increasingly concerned that more international donors will pull out their funding, which would be catastrophic for the country and its people and jeopardise the progress made over the last decade. Myanmar citizens needs our support now more than ever. Our priority is to ensure the continuation of our current programmes and projects in Myanmar.

Child’s Dream does not have and has never had any connection with the military, as we have always been opposing their role in the government and their atrocities against the country’s ethnic groups. Our focus has always been on supporting uncontroversial health and education interventions directly or through our community-based partners to promote sustainable development towards a free, fair, peaceful and prosperous Myanmar.

We have been working in Myanmar for over 15 years and we have fallen in love with the country and its people, with whom we stand in their aspiration for peace, freedom, human rights and development. Let us show our solidarity and work together to safeguard these aspirations!

Seeing is Believing: Our Remarkable New Storytellers

We have all heard the old sayings “seeing is believing” and “a picture is worth a thousand words.” But did you know that the human brain processes images about 60,000 times faster than text? Photos and videos have incredible power to communicate hard-to-describe situations and invoke strong emotional reactions. NGOs depend on donors’ emotional connections and desire to make a difference. For nonprofits, the power of visual storytelling is vital. 

Earlier this month, we introduced you to Classroom of Hope’s original field photographers: Simon, Geoff, and Rakhal. Now, we want to introduce you to three new extraordinary professionals. These visual storytellers have helped to take Classroom of Hope to the next level! Meet the most recent members of our creative support team below.

Shayna Pitch

Duncan and Nicola met Bali-based photographer Shayna Pitch and her husband Brandon through mutual friends in 2016. The connection was immediate. When we told them about the work we were doing in Indonesia, Shayna showed us her photography and volunteered to help. Her moving and evocative photos immediately struck us!

Shayna first came on board to document our work with the Bali Hope Ultra and Bali Children’s Foundation. With her talented eye documenting our projects in Bali, our reach grew. Shayna’s ability to tell stories through her work allowed us to really show donors our positive impact on children’s education on the island.

Thanks to Shayna’s help and the dedication of all those involved in the Bali Hope Ultra, we raised over $80,000 for children’s education!

Photo by Shayna Pitch

This year, when Classroom of Hope began our new partnership with  Scholars of Sustenance (SOS) and Social Impakt, Shayna and Brandon reached out to offer their help once again. In August, Shayna and her camera accompanied our partners to help distribute nutritious meals and water filters to vulnerable communities in Bali. The powerful portraits she took have become the face of Classroom of Hope’s fundraising campaigns  for Bali food and water aid.

With these photos and the generosity of our major donors, Classroom of Hope has been able to raise enough funds to help our partners distribute over 180,000 meals and 130 water filters!

Photo by Shayna Pitch

What made you willing to volunteer as a photographer for Classroom of Hope?

“My husband and I have lived in Bali for about 8 years now and what we love most about the island are the wonderful local people and their genuinely caring nature. We saw this collaboration as an opportunity to give back to the locals whose island has provided us with so much over the years while also helping our two amazing friends with their mission.”

Photo by Shayna Pitch

Shayna’s Brand as a Photographer

Shayna is passionate about capturing life’s authentic moments. In defining her brand, Shayna calls herself a “street portrait photographer.” She conveys the feeling of a specific location by capturing the faces, emotions, and natural beauty of its people.

See More of Shayna’s Work:

Shayna’s Instagram

Mark Harrison

Travel videographer Mark Harrison got involved with CoH in early 2019. He joined us during Project Lombok, the viral social media campaign to support Pop-Up Schools in Lombok, Indonesia.

This was Mark’s first time doing videography work for an NGO, but you wouldn’t know it. He blended in seamlessly with the team and connected immediately with the students. His work that week was instrumental in the success of the Project Lombok campaign. 

Mark’s video tugged at the heartstrings of donors across the world. His footage captured the true devastation of the earthquakes that hit the island. His storytelling focused on the strength of the children who lived through the earthquakes and their joy as they ran into their new schools. This positive focus in the face of disaster is reflected in Mark’s favorite memory of the week:

“Seeing children be children. They’re always positive, laughing and playing regardless of their situation. I love that. It’s a reminder to myself to always be grateful for what I have and not get caught up in the never-ending cyclone of wanting more.”

Video by Mark Harrison

Thanks to his work, Project Lombok didn’t just hit its fundraising goal of $104,000 – it exceeded it! Mark’s video and the support from the rest of the Project Lombok team reached all corners of the world. In the end, it resulted in almost $130,000 in donations! These funds allowed us to build 6 more earthquake-resistant Pop-Up Schools. That’s 1,160 students that were able to go back to school thanks to Mark and Project Lombok.

What made you willing to volunteer as a videographer for Project Lombok and Classroom of Hope? 

“My first impression was that CoH is very transparent and honest with their dealings. I love and trust Nicola and Duncan, which makes me trust in the purity of their vision. That impression never changed throughout the Project Lombok experience.

My perception of the project specifically only slightly altered when I realised just how much need Indonesia was truly in. It was initially hard to accept that we can only help a very small portion of children. However, it was something that I had to become okay with.”

Mark’s Brand as a Videographer  

Mark’s videos are all about telling stories. He first became a videographer at a young age by making skateboarding videos with his friends… 

“Skateboarding was eventually replaced with travel, but the desire to create permanent memories remained. I only started pursuing it professionally 4 years ago when I was a teacher abroad and realised this is something I could do as a career.”

Now, Mark is recognised as a leading travel videographer and travel influencer. His videos capture the highlights that various countries, destinations and experiences offer. He has a talent for communicating the true sense of a place through his imagery. This may have been Mark’s first experience volunteering as a videographer for an NGO, but we hope it won’t be his last!

See More of Mark’s Work

Mark’s Instagram

Mark’s Facebook

Mark’s YouTube

Manuel Gussmann

Manuel “Manu” Gussmann is the most recent photographer to join Classroom of Hope’s family. He may be new, but he has made such a strong impact in a short period of time that it feels like he’s been with us forever! Just like Mark, Manu first got involved with Classroom of Hope through Project Lombok. After a week spent photographing Pop-Up Schools, Manu says, his eyes were opened.

“It was a challenging process for me personally to realise how privileged my upbringing was. And how little I appreciated all the opportunities and resources I had in Germany. Seeing these children and their communities being happy with what they have after such a tragedy really stood out to me.”  

Photo by Manuel Gussmann

Since then, Manu has become a constant part of our CoH creative team. His photos have become the face of our Pop-Up School projects in Lombok. He has now joined us as a field photographer for school openings in Cambodia and Myanmar as well. He even expanded into videography during last year’s Lombok Ultramarathon run by Nicola and our supporter Matt Murray! 

Manu has an eye for capturing incredible and authentic moments. The stories his photos tell have grown even more powerful the longer he’s been with us. 

“I would say I have grown a lot thanks to the communities we’ve visited. I really could feel and see how globally unbalanced resources and access to education are distributed. It’s made a huge difference to me to see this firsthand, compared to the intellectual understanding of these topics I had before.”

Photo by Manuel Gussmann

What made you willing to donate your time as a photographer/videographer to CoH? 

“Since I started traveling, I’ve been interested in working with NGOs. I want to create a body of work around documentary photography, so the opportunity to work with CoH was the perfect “win/win“ situation to get started! The energy of all the people coming together to make something happen, contributing to what they are good at – funds, skills, and/or time – was incredible. 

At the end of the day, my time with Project Lombok and especially the conversations I had with Nicola and Duncan changed everything. They helped me decide to quit my job in Switzerland and take on the challenge to make a living out of photography and videography.”

Photo by Manuel Gussmann

Manuel’s Brand as a Photographer

Manu is an avid traveler and self-described “Nomadic Photographer and Videographer”. His passion is in capturing moments as they are to tell genuine stories. He loves working on purpose-driven projects. We’re lucky to have him helping us capture our impact on film! 

See more of Manuel’s Work

Manuel’s Website

Manuel’s Instagram

These three incredible visual storytellers have been more instrumental than we can express. As humans, we react more strongly to visual stimuli than words. Great photos and videos allow us to show our donors the faces of the students they can help. Through them, they can visualise their impact. Without the efforts of our visual storytellers, we would never have been able to grow into what we are today.

So, to Rakhal, Simon, Geoff, Shayna, Mark, Manu, and the other photographers and videographers that have been a part of Classroom of Hope’s projects over the years… THANK YOU. You have impacted the lives of thousands of students over the past seven years. Your legacy will live on through your photos and the difference you’ve made. We’re so grateful to have you all as part of our CoH family.

Extraordinary Photographers: CoH’s Most Powerful Volunteers

It’s impossible to deny the power of photography for an NGO like Classroom of Hope. Our photos and videos highlight our kids, our schools, and our story. They pull at your heartstrings, make you smile, and make you think. The stories they tell describe who we are and epitomise why we do what we do. They are central in our fundraising efforts, our impact reports, and our ability to build new partnerships.

What you may not know is that all of Classroom of Hope’s photos and videos are taken by volunteers! As an NGO, we are incredibly lucky to have professionals who have been willing to donate their time and prodigious skills to our cause. It’s time to give a shout-out to a few of these amazing photographers and videographers!

To give each the attention they deserve, we’ve broken this into two posts. We want to start with the three legends who have been with us since the beginning. These talented cameramen helped to launch CoH and make it possible for us to grow into what we are today! 

Meet Our Valiant Videographer

Rakhal Heijtel

Rakhal Heijtel’s work for Classroom of Hope is perhaps one of the best known creative pieces we have! Rakhal and his business partner Ruurd Vulink are the artists behind the video that tells Classroom of Hope’s origin story: “Anything Can Start From a Thought.” 

“Anything Can Start From a Thought” by Matemade

Rakhal and Duncan first met back in 2010. Rakhal was backpacking through Australia and Indonesia when he met Duncan at Balangan Beach, Bali.

“Although we had an age gap, there was a super strong connection between us. We both stayed at the Ketut Guesthouse for nearly two months and surfed, talked, played chess all day long.”

During his travels, Rakhal had begun to consider a career in filming. That dream became a reality when he returned to Amsterdam. Upon his return, he met Ruurd Vulink, a “true film artist with an incredible talent for creative concepts and post-production.” Just a couple of years later, Rakhal and Ruurd had founded their own creative company, Matemade.

That was around the same time that Classroom of Hope had grown from a thought into reality. Duncan and Rakhal had stayed connected even during their years apart. When Duncan told Rakhal about CoH and wanted to tell our story to donors, Rakhal offered his help. In 2013, he joined Duncan, Nicola, and Racky on a trip to Cambodia.

What made you willing to volunteer as a videographer for Classroom of Hope?

“To be part of a group of very motivated people that truly wanted to make a difference made me feel very enthusiastic. I had made many storytelling ads for commercial brands, but this was a different league. I had never truly experienced the power of ads before the Classroom of Hope project. To me, there is no better feeling than nailing a shot or a story knowing that it can impact others and actually help a community.”

Rakhal’s work during that trip (and Ruurd’s editing back in Amsterdam) came together in CoH’s first campaign video. This powerful telling of our story helped launch us into a whole new level of visibility and impact. 

Since then, Matemade has taken off as a high-end creative film company. Even so, they’ve never stopped focusing on meaningful relationships and their tight-knit community.

Rakhal’s Brand as a Videographer

“Matemade is independent, proudly and deliberately small. Truthfully, the only things we want to be big are your ideas, which we are never willing to compromise upon. That may mean destroying another camera drone on behalf of that perfect shot, or eating bananas exclusively for three days somewhere on an island still undiscovered by Google. Because ultimately, it’s not about how many desks we have here, it’s what goes in front of the camera.”

See More of Rakhal’s work below!

Matemade Website

Matemade Videos 

Matemade Instagram

Matemade Facebook

Meet our Phenomenal Photographers

Simon Elwell

Simon Elwell was the first photographer to come into the field with Classroom of Hope. Our founder, Duncan, grew up with Simon’s wife Anya in South Africa. Serendipitously, Simon and Anya relocated to Thailand around the same time that Duncan founded CoH in Cambodia. While in Bangkok, Simon began exploring his love for photography and asked if Classroom of Hope could use a field photographer. In 2013, he joined Duncan and Nicola on a trip to Battambang, Cambodia to inaugurate three new schools. 

Photo by Simon Elwell

“This was a massive turning point for me. My eyes were opened to the education crisis – and to the amazing kids who seemed to want nothing more in life than to go to school and learn. Through my lens, I could see the hopes and dreams on their faces as they sat in new classrooms and fresh uniforms. I realised that I could use my passion for photography to ‘give a little back.’ The images I captured were being used to drive fundraising and support donor reports.”

Photo by Simon Elwell

Since then, Simon has been on four more trips with Classroom of Hope. He has been back to Battambang twice more, to Rwanda once, and most recently, to Myanmar. 

What made you willing to volunteer as a photographer for Classroom of Hope?

“The first trip was all about new opportunities for photography and the chance for an adventure. After watching Duncan, Nicola and the rest of the team operating in the field, things changed. When I came home and shared the images with my 2 yr old daughter and answered her questions about why the kids all had muddy feet, or why their classrooms had no windows… Corny as it seems, I ‘saw the light’. I realised that as long as I could afford to help, I would always make myself available to support this amazing effort whenever possible.”

Photo by Simon Elwell

Simon’s Brand as a Field Photographer

Simon’s photography represents people’s genuine nature. His main focus professionally is on portrait photography. However, he also has a talent for travel photography and spends a lot of time traveling to interesting places! 

See more of Simon’s Work Below! 

Simon’s Website

Simon’s Instagram

Simon’s Facebook

Geoff Bartlett

IT Director… Amazewall Fundraiser… and Field Photographer! Is there anything Geoff Bartlett can’t do? We found this multi-talented supporter (and lifelong friend) when Geoff and Duncan met in the corporate world back in 2013.

Geoff remembers Duncan as “this oddball business analyst. He stood out… generally making it a better place to be.” Geoff was working as an IT director at the time but was looking for something different.

“I was reaching the end of my endurance with my work and my tolerance for the distance between the companies I worked for and what I saw as my values. I wanted to do something that I could be proud of, but didn’t know what it was.”

When Duncan mentioned Classroom of Hope, it got Geoff’s attention. Geoff jumped at the chance to get involved and became CoH’s back-end IT person. That’s when he told Duncan about his interest in photography. 

“In December 2014, Duncan was booked to go to Rwanda to meet a local NGO and tour sites for potential school building projects. I don’t remember quite how I got myself on board, but he needed photographers and I had a camera. I was on my first trip with CoH! This was a life-changing moment. After spending a hectic week in Rwanda with Duncan, Nic, and Simon (Elwell), I extended my stay for an extra week to photograph projects for the Rwandan NGO we were working with. I knew I had found my calling, what I wanted to do.”

Photo by Geoff Bartlett

Soon after, Geoff left his IT career and returned to Rwanda with his wife. He spent 6 months there, fulfilling his dream of becoming a documentary photographer. During this time, he visited and photographed Classroom of Hope’s Nyamatete and Gitumba projects. Since then, Geoff has also joined CoH as a field photographer for school openings on three separate trips to Cambodia. 

Photo by Geoff Bartlett

What made you willing to volunteer as a photographer for Classroom of Hope?

“In the years since starting with Classroom of Hope, I have worked with NGOs to tell the stories of the people they serve. So often I have met people who, with just a little help, have leapt ahead. It’s inspiring to see again and again how people overcome adversity. If I have one hope in telling stories through photography, it is to show that we are all in this together. If my luck holds, I might one day see that hope realised.”

Photo by Geoff Bartlett

Geoff’s Brand as a Field Photographer

Geoff is a humanitarian and a true photojournalist. He is a story-teller, approaching his work with sensitivity and passion.

See more of Geoff’s Work Below! 

Geoff’s Website

Geoff’s Instagram

It’s hard to know where Classroom of Hope would be today without the generosity of these three extraordinary artists. Simon, Geoff, and Rakhal took a chance on Duncan and Nicola’s dream. By doing so, they allowed us to tell our story and grow from just “a thought” into what we are today. They are truly the backbone of this organisation, and we couldn’t be more grateful.

Check back soon to meet Shayna, Manu, and Mark – three incredible photographers and videographers who joined us more recently and helped to take Classroom of Hope to the next level!

School’s Out for Coronavirus: Top Free Homeschool Tools

The COVID-19 outbreak has caused schools to close across the world. Unfortunately, this includes Classroom of Hope’s schools as well. Slowly, some students have started to return to their classrooms, but the vast majority of students are still learning from home.

Many are turning to online teaching to keep students engaged. However, not all students have access to this option. Online teaching requires a dedicated teacher (and school that can continue to pay them) and a reliable internet connection. Unfortunately, this isn’t a reality for many schools worldwide.

To help address these crucial gaps in education, resources are appearing for families new to homeschooling. In fact, there are so many tools available now that it can be overwhelming. For many, the question of how to continue education from home adds yet another challenge to an already difficult time.  

Classroom of Hope’s mission is to provide access to quality education to students in developing countries. With schools closed, we can’t currently do that in person. But we can help students and parents navigate this new challenge!

Below, we’ve listed a few of our favorite FREE homeschooling resources. We’ve tried to include tools for all different ages, backgrounds and levels of internet access. 

How to Homeschool During Coronavirus

First, Take a Deep Breath

Everyone in the world is struggling through this pandemic together.  No one expects that parents will suddenly be able to offer the level of education that teachers can. So breathe, and remember that you’re doing your best.

Okay, But Where Do I Even Start?

Start slow. Realize that even two to three hours per day will make a difference.

Talk with your children and decide which subjects to focus on. Math, Science, and Language are usually core subjects. Are there other fields that they enjoy, or need more practice with?

Grade 3 Teacher: Khang Kanha Ti Na (12) solve a maths problem on the balckboard

Figure out how your student learns. Are they best with hands-on activities and games, or by doing worksheets? Educational videos? Do they need structure or are they self-disciplined?

Evaluate your resources. Do you have reliable internet access to watch live stream classes or videos? If not, can you view lessons and basic web pages online? Do you have a computer or a smartphone? If you don’t have internet access at home, is there somewhere you can get online and print worksheets?

FREE Homeschooling Resources during COVID-19

Each tool listed below has pros/cons and different audiences. Some are only available for certain age groups, some for certain school subjects. Most need some degree of internet access, but some offer offline options.

For Reading Practice
(Pre-K through Year 8 Reading Levels)

The International Children’s Digital Library provides free access to children’s literature from cultures around the world. 

Their collection includes over 4,000 books in 59 different languages! There are even books offered in multiple languages. 

The website is child-friendly and easy to navigate. It’s also available in various languages. You can sort by location, language, subject, and more. Books are not downloadable – readers open up one or two pages at a time, and you need internet access. The site is available on a computer or a smartphone, and file sizes are small.

This is a great option for young readers, including non-English speakers or English-Language-Learners!

For Downloadable and Printable Worksheets (Kindergarten through Year 6)

K5 Learning was founded by parents to offer quality educational tools for their kids to use at home. They offer online lessons for a charge, but what we love are their free worksheets!

The website offers free mathematics and reading worksheets. Reading options include comprehension, vocabulary, spelling, and grammar. You can sort worksheets by topic or by level. Each downloadable PDF includes an easy answer key and can be printed out! 

You don’t have to make an account to access these worksheets. There are reminders on the website to start your 14-day free trial, but this isn’t required to access the free worksheets. 

This site is great for elementary level English-speaking students. The ability to download and print worksheets makes this a good option for families with limited internet access.

For Parents Who Want More
(K through Year 5)

Hand2Mind is a great resource for parents who want more complete lesson plans. This site normally charges for educational tools. However, in response to COVID-19, they’ve started to offer some great resources for free.

Free weekly schedules for K-5 students include daily lessons and activities. Worksheets on mathematics, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths), and literacy are downloadable. Each also includes an answer key, and they’re all available in both English and Spanish!

For parents that don’t feel like they have the time to take on the full weekly activity schedule, that’s fine. Each of these worksheets can also be used individually. 

The site also has great resources for parents who are new to teaching at home. They provide guides for educational activities and advice on how to establish a daily routine. Just make sure to stay on the “Hand2MindAtHome” part of the website, where the free resources are.

For Kids Who Want to Play While They Learn (Pre-K through Year 6)

ABCya is based on the belief that children learn better when they’re having fun! This website’s 400+ fun and free educational games can be sorted by grade level, by subject, or even by how they relate to common standards for each grade level.

The free version of this website is only available on a desktop computer (the app costs money), and has ads. The games require strong internet access.

This can be a great option for children who need a break from worksheets! 

For Students in the United Kingdom

BBC Bitesize is an incredible resource for UK learners aged 5 to 16+. This site offers guides written by teachers and mapped to follow the curricula of the UK. They provide online daily lessons and videos. They also offer parent toolkits and further resources.

For secondary students, lessons on this website follow specifications for main exam boards. These curricula are even broken down by region, with a choice of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, or Wales. This allows students to continue preparing themselves for large exams from home.

Most lessons are only available on the website, instead of being downloadable. There are a lot of videos and games rather than worksheets. Lessons are offered across a wide range of school subjects, including electives like music and history. 

For UK students with good internet access, BBC Bitesize seems to have everything. Being backed by the educational system and aligned with national testing is a big perk!

For Literally Everyone

Khan Academy offers “free world-class education for anyone, anywhere”. (Sounds like our mission!) This not-for-profit offers free lessons across all areas of study for Pre-K through college. Their classes include videos, articles, practice questions, tests, and more. Even better – no ads!

You need an email address to create a personalized (free) account. This account allows you to track your progress, make learning plans, or save lessons for later.

The best part of Khan Academy is its global accessibility. The platform is accessible in 40+ languages. We were amazed to see that this includes demo sites of Burmese, Bahasa Indonesia, Swahili, and Thai! What an amazing possibility for some of our CoH students.

In addition to its desktop site, Khan Academy has apps for Apple and Android. Through the apps, students without consistent internet can download videos to learn offline.

This is a great option for secondary and tertiary students who want to continue to learn from home. It is also a possibility for non-English speaking students to continue studies in a wide variety of subjects. 

Honourable Mentions

BrainPop offers playful videos and interactive assignments for all major subjects of study (K-8). They also have special platforms for English-Language-Learners. However, their free access offer only goes through June 15, 2020. 

CorbettMaths has a basic website offering printable math worksheets with accompanying videos, quizzes, and answer keys. This is a good resource for students looking for extra practice in mathematics.

Ed Helper and Have Fun Teaching are both websites with lots of free printables. Both sites offer great child-friendly tools for reading, literacy, mathematics, and more. However, neither site offers answer keys, which would make it difficult to check students’ learning. 

And Now, Another Deep Breath

The resources we’ve mentioned in this blog are just a few of the many tools that are available to parents today. It can be overwhelming to see them all, and to think of how best to put them into practice.

These tools can be used separately or together to create the right options for your students. The most important takeaway is that you don’t need to start from scratch when it comes to education at home. 

Be patient with yourselves and with your students. Remember that no one expects you to become a teacher overnight. Do what you can during this time, but be sure to find your own balance. And eventually, schools will be back in session! Students have already started going back to school in some parts of the world.

We’re waiting eagerly for that day that all Classroom of Hope supported schools are reopened. Until then, be sure to follow us for more advice and resources as we navigate this new time together.

Dombokbon Grade 2. The teacher Som Ban helps Panna (8) in a writing lesson.

Classrooms are Paused but Hope is Stronger than Ever

In a short time, novel coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, have spread from a seemingly distant issue to a global pandemic. Now, just a few months after we first heard of it, COVID-19 has affected people and organisations all over the planet… and Classroom of Hope (CoH) is no exception.

How is Classroom of Hope Responding to COVID-19?

As the real impact of COVID-19 is becoming apparent, nonprofits have had to respond and prioritise. CoH’s first priority has been the safety of our team around the world. We’re lucky to have a big family of staff, partners, and donors… but that also means we have a lot of people to check on.

Our Team:

Duncan and Nicola, expecting their second child soon, have moved back to Australia for now. The rest of our team is scattered but safe and secure. Everyone is working remotely from Australia, Europe, the Philippines and the United States.

Our Local Partners:

Bit by bit, our schools and projects around the world have shut down to avoid the spread of the virus. Until recently,  close to 95% of Classroom of Hope’s ongoing projects were paused. New school builds were frozen, fundraisers put on hold, big ideas moved to the backburner. This has only just changed in the last week and some of our local partners have been able to recommence the construction of new schools because these construction projects are recognised as essential services.  Our local partners are all sheltering in place, helping their communities and keeping us updated.

Children’s Action for Development (CAD):

CAD has confirmed that all their schools in Cambodia are currently shut. Racky and the rest of the team are all working from home. They have enough money reserved to continue paying their staff for a while longer. During this downtime, they’re working to lay the groundwork for a second school funded by Navitas Education Trust.

Child’s Dream:

Child’s Dream has shut most offices and encouraged employees to work from home. All CoH funded schools and new builds were closed but in recent developments, Child’s Dream is now able to continue with school construction projects in rural communities across Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. Their project staff is still working to support programs and minimise the impact of COVID-19.

Duncan, Nicola (with daughter Aura) and Lotte from Classroom of Hope outside the Child’s Dream Head Office in Chiang Mai with Child’s Dream Founders Daniel and Marc.

Pelita Foundation Lombok:

Classroom of Hope and Pelita Foundation had five new pop-up schools in progress this year. Luckily, all five schools were completed just before the virus hit! With all future building paused, Pelita Foundation is now focused on protecting their local community in Gerupuk, Lombok. Their new Coronavirus Task Force aims to minimise the impact of the virus by spreading information, setting up sanitation facilities and providing basic medical materials.

We are so grateful for these incredible partners. They are our eyes and ears on the ground, allowing CoH to stay updated on our communities. We will continue to do what we can to support them as they work tirelessly throughout this crisis.

How to Survive as a Nonprofit during Coronavirus?

Our Situation – Adapting to a New Reality

Once we were confident that our team was safe, we moved to our second priority – our nonprofit’s survival during COVID-19. The first step has been to adjust to our new reality. We’ve had to be flexible: observing, adapting, and making changes. We’ve had to adjust to continue to engage donors during the pandemic and be effective. By staying agile, we’re ensuring that Classroom of Hope can make it through.

We’ve been feeling the effects of the crisis for more than just the past few weeks. With the initial spread of the virus in late January, our donations started dropping off. As people started worrying about personal finances, small website donations stopped. Some large donors were forced to pull out when companies had to re-examine their budgets. When the stock markets crashed in March, the taps turned off almost completely.

This has left us feeling immensely grateful for our two groups of absolute legends: our Wise Owls and our Principals.

Our Heroes – Engaging Donors during a Pandemic

Our Wise Owls have been with us for a few years now. They are a group of passionate donors who understand the importance of covering overhead costs for growth. They invest monthly towards Classroom of Hope’s operations. This helps to build our capacity and further our impact. We are so appreciative that this support has remained consistent throughout the COVID-19 crisis!

The Principals are a new concept launched earlier this year. They are a community of philanthropists: business leaders, entrepreneurs, and visionary investors. Our Principals commit multi-year support to our operations.  Our Principals are more than investors; they are part of our Classroom of Hope family.  Their commitments allow us to plan for our future and create a stable and sustainable nonprofit. This is more important now than ever as we navigate through COVID-19.

Our Approach – Staying Agile

Fortified by the investments from our Principals, we’re taking steps to ensure CoH’s sustainability. We’re staying agile, using this time to streamline our nonprofit and put new systems in place. We’re determined that after this pandemic, CoH will be ready to emerge stronger than ever.

With most of our projects frozen, CoH has been able to focus on our core operating costs and cut our budget by 40%. We set a new goal; raising enough funds to have twelve months of reserves. Through the generosity of our Wise Owls and Principals, we are well on our way to reaching that goal!

So What Can We Do Now?

With these adjustments, we’ve addressed our second priority – our nonprofit’s survival. So now what? Anyone who knows us is aware that we can’t just sit on our hands and wait in the face of a crisis. But how can a school-building nonprofit respond when schools are shut down? How can we continue to engage donors during the pandemic?

The answer is simple: observe, stay flexible, and adapt. While CoH’s constitution focuses on education, we are and have always been a community development nonprofit. Our primary goal is to listen to what underserved communities need and be effective in our service. After discussions at a board and executive level, a decision was made to try and raise funds through major donors, foundations and philanthropists for critical food relief in Indonesia. If you are interested in this initiative, please contact Duncan directly at [email protected].

Where Do We Go From Here?

How will we know when it’s time to get back to “normal”? That’s the question on everyone’s mind, and no one has a clear answer. Like all of you, we’re taking it week by week. We’ll continue to observe the global situation and stay in contact with our local partners.

Until then, we’ll be focusing on our priorities.

  • Keeping our team safe.
  • Keeping Classroom of Hope alive and relevant.
  • Listening to the needs of our communities and doing what we can to help.

Thank you all for your continued support. We’re all in this together, even when we’re far apart. Stay safe, stay healthy, STAY HOPEFUL.

By Kristina Buckingham
CoH Social Media

Our Recent Field Trip to Cambodia

Photos by Manuel Gussmann

Going into the field is always a wonderful reminder of why we do what we do. While we love and appreciate doing our day to day work, it is truly something special to be able to visit schools in person, meet the students and see the impact created on the ground. It’s a powerful, almost overwhelming feeling of gratitude we experience when we get the opportunity to visit our projects. When we get to share the experience with other people, like our donors, these wonderful emotions get all the more heightened. 

On our recent trip to Cambodia, we attended the opening ceremony of two new schools. These ceremonies are an inauguration; an official handover of the school to the community. The first school opening ceremony took place in Oddar Meanchey Province in the village of Srei Krosang along the Thai / Cambodian border. Our team set out on a three-hour drive from Siem Reap to rural Srei Krosang with our local partner, Child’s Dream, and donors, Alisoun Mackenzie & Friends and Acts of Kindness Collective, to open Prasat Toek Khmao Primary School. 

The team and donors were warmly welcomed by the community lining the gate and pathway to the new school. There to greet them were smiling children, proud teachers, school directors and parents and honoured government officials and community leaders.

A warm community welcome

The ceremony began with a sacred blessing from a monk, followed by the national anthem, dances, speeches, a handing out of medals and cutting of the ribbon to formally open the school. The school was then officially handed over from our local partner to the community. 

Monks giving a blessing to start the opening ceremony
Donors gather on stage at the opening ceremony

Child’s Dream co-Founder, Marc, officially hands the school over to the community

The donors spent time with the students distributing locally-sourced stationery supplies and backpacks. They then enjoyed a local lunch and afterward, it was time to dance! Alisoun Mackenzie and her team from Scotland busted out their best moves with the community in a joyous celebration of the collaborative efforts which created this brand new school.

A group photo in front of the new building at Prasat Toek Khmao Primary School. 

The next day the Classroom of Hope team parted ways with our local partner and donors to set off for Battambang, Cambodia where we would open the next school, Adoung Trach Primary School located in the Sanger District of Battambang. This school was implemented by our local partner Children’s Action for Development (CAD) and was supported by Navitas. Navitas has been supporting projects in Battambang, Cambodia alongside CAD and COH since 2014.

A view of Andoung Trach Primary School from above.

There was great excitement at Andoung Trach school as over 500 people arrived to attend the official school opening. The event was presided over by the Excellency Governor of Battambang Province and other key stakeholders from the Provincial Office of Education, District Office of Education, Commune Council, police, community, teachers and children. Navitas was represented by Tim Tabaka (Regional Sales Director, South East Asia), Nga Phuong Tran (Regional Manager – Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos) and two teachers, Sharla Stolhandske (Canada) and Tresna Maclean (Australia).

Tim Tabaka gives a speech at the opening ceremony
The opening ceremony

After speeches were given, 60 scholarship students (including 30 who came from Toul Lvieng school) were presented with school materials including uniforms, shoes, bags, pens and books. 15 bicycles were also distributed to children who live a long distance away from the school. All school supplies and bicycles were sponsored by Navitas as part of their support of scholarships in the Battambang area.

Tresna (left), Sharla (middle) and Nga (right) distribute scholarship packages to students
Tim and Tresna distribute bicycles to students
Students after receiving their scholarship packages
Donors, CAD, teachers and COH in front of the new school building
Racky, Founder and Executive Director of CAD

After the opening ceremony, the CAD team took us to see the next school in line to be rebuilt with funding from Navitas. Students of the school, Toul Lveang Primary, were learning under tarps held up by bamboo and wood. The school structure does not provide any protection from the rain during the wet season and gets uncomfortably hot on sunny days. The environment is not safe or conducive to learning. We had seen pictures of this school and knew it was in desperate need of rebuilding, but it was a different experience entirely to see it in person and to meet the children studying there. Everyone was relieved in knowing that this school will be rebuilt within the year.

A new building at Toul Lveang Primary School will be built this year supported by Navitas.

At the end of every field trip, we come away with a deeper understanding of the need on the ground and the genuine impact our local partners create. In sharing these visits with the donors who fund our projects, we get to see it all through their eyes; it’s like seeing it for the first time. And every time, after these special days of celebration, we hear from those who have seen the impact firsthand, “it was an experience I will never forget”.