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