To claim that unskilled volunteers can build an entire home in 3 days was definitely going to come with many challenges. However, there’s a saying “only time will tell”- Such is the case for the work that we’ve done through Epic Homes. Coming to 10 years of existence, we’ve been extremely proud of the 150+ families provided with homes, relationships bridged between rural and urban communities, and a trained volunteer army of more than 6000 who we believe had their lives changed in their own unique ways. It’s the reason why we keep doing what we’re doing, pull out the foundation of authentic impact and we lose our wings and begin crumbling down.

As part of our preparation to scale, we decided to do an audit of the many homes that we’ve built over the years across Selangor, Perak, and Kelantan. The results as a whole were mixed with encouraging results where many proud owners who’ve further beautified and customised their homes. However, we had also noticed that many homes that were built in our formative years were in bad condition.

 

Here’s what we found:

Other findings include rusting of joints, fasteners & other daily wear and tear.

 

How Did It Happen?

We learnt that the damaged houses happened due to these factors:

1. Workmanship Errors – In the early days, training syllabus might not have been comprehensive enough to represent the tasks that were being covered on-site. Leadership level volunteers did not get adequate technical training.

2. Unsuitable Materials – We realised that some of the materials that we had selected were not suitable for the climate in the middle of the jungle. Some roofing sheets melted, and some paint was not suitable or sufficient especially for the steel.

3. Logistics & Coating – Packing, transporting and laying of steel members caused scratches which when added with inadequate paint coating caused premature rust.

4. Design Errors – The length of the foyer roof and positioning of the kitchen door was placed inappropriately which overexposed wood members to direct rainfall. This caused premature rotting.

5. Lack of Maintenance Training – When we started we had assumed that families would naturally know what to do. However, we realised later on that there was a need to properly guide family members on maintenance steps while also establishing clarity of expectations, terms of ownership as some of them were under the assumption that the homes belonged to Epic and because of that they were afraid to do anything to their home.

6. Unforeseen Circumstances – In our tropical climate, rainstorms are a frequent occurrence. The effect of a rainstorm is often amplified when surrounded by trees. When these things happen after the 6 month warranty period, families are often unable to bear the cost of immediate repair. This often leads to further deterioration that leads to more critical damage. There have been situations where we only got notified much later from the time of the incident and because we did not have a repair fund, we needed time to raise funds for repairs.

 

Our Response

In order to make this right again, we have been going on a tour to repair all critical homes to ensure that the homes can provide a safe platform for families to build a better future. Thanks to the Epic Communities and Orang Asli builder teams, we’ve made great progress and will complete all necessary repairs by the end of 2019. We are so grateful for understanding sponsors and funders who have helped us raise the necessary amounts to repair and upgrade these homes.



Improvements

In order to ensure that we’re able to scale without losing sleep and to ensure that this situation can be mitigated in the future, here are the measures that we have already put in place.

1.  Workmanship
– We have been revising the training and education offered to volunteers from Basic Builder Workshop, Advanced Builder Course and also the Master Builder Course to better prepare and educate our volunteers to reflect and apply their learnings the event of a build. Learn more.

– Trained Orang Asli builders have been recruited and trained from their time of service as pay-it-forward participants to ensure that our build site is prepared, footing/anchoring system is installed precisely and repair cases can be attended to when the need arises.

2. Improved overall design


– We have moved and tweaked certain design elements such as the kitchen entrance, extension of the foyer, covering of ground beams and other wood members to provide better overall longevity to the home.

– We have improved the ease of buildability so that our designs can be built more efficiently and safely while ensuring consistency of quality. We’ve still been able to consistently complete our homes within 3 days even if it rained for half a day (so far).

– We changed our stump footing system to mega anchor, an easy to install piling system from Australia that has been tested for typhoon, hurricane and flood conditions. We realised that the conventional concrete stumps as anchoring for our structure was not ideal as badly made stumps would encourage water ponding around the steel columns which encouraged rust. We also noticed during our work in Kelantan for flood recovery efforts that the concrete stumps of affected houses got easily swept away when flood levels were significant. A piling system, on the other hand, ensures that houses will not be lifted and swept away.

3. Provided post-home maintenance guideline – we have introduced a maintenance guidebook that aids any new homeowners some basic guidelines of the do’s and don’ts when looking after their new homes. Learn more.


4. Provided home insurance with MSIG
– we have introduced an insurance policy with our partners at MSIG that covers all and any existing and future homes. Learn more.

These improvements were implemented throughout the last few years and have proven to be effective where our newer homes do not suffer from similar issues. Earlier families have been updated with updated knowledge about maintenance, ownership, given repair services (if critical) or resources to carry out their own repairs (if minor).

 

As Closing…

This whole situation has been extremely humbling and frustrating when:

  • The families already struggle and face adversity on a daily basis, the last thing we want is for our solutions to create further inconveniences for them.
  • Sponsors have entrusted us by sharing their resources and brand credibility with us and would expect that the resources shared will last. 
  • Many volunteers have poured in so much heart and trust that their energy will pour into something that will last.

While we did everything with our best intentions, we learnt that good intentions aren’t always sufficient, if we make mistakes, we need to be held accountable to right them.

Nevertheless, making mistakes is part of the journey and it’s important to own up to it, learn from it and ask for help. I have to admit that I was afraid of sharing this and am still unsure how this would affect others but we’ve got to do the right thing. The fear of making mistakes shouldn’t become a barrier to starting if we know we can make life better for others. We definitely have no regrets starting because, despite the negatives, more positives have been created.

At the end of the day, our goal for our communities is that these homes serve as a platform for the families to achieve their dreams instead of becoming a crutch. We have to admit that we were far from excellent in our approach when we started and as a result has faced and witnessed the risks of providing a hand out (although that was not intended). However, we are happy that over time because we’ve built relationships with our partner communities, we’ve been able to talk things out and work through our frustrations. I want to thank our community partners for your patience with us and for teaching us how to improve our ways. Because of you, we have improved and future communities do not need to go through the same challenges as we have.

We want to thank all our sponsors, partners and volunteers for your patience and continuous trust. We know that the non-profit or impact sector can be pretty unforgiving, especially when it comes to interventions with marginalised communities. However, your graciousness is the reason why we can continue boldly.

At Epic, we are committed to being the best that we can be and that is what we will continue to push so rest assured, this is not where improvements end.

Your Malaysian Brother,
John-Son Oei
Chief Epic Officer