Vanuatu School Build Project

Posted in: BP Women in Engineering Award

This summer, thanks to support from the BP Women in Engineering funding, I travelled across the world to Pentecost Island, Vanuatu, in the South Pacific, in order to build a classroom and library space in Ranwas village, as the previous school was destroyed by Cyclone Pam in 2015. This was a project run by CAUKIN Studio alongside the Tanbok Project, a charity working in Vanuatu, who have been supporting the Ranwas school build since the cyclone hit.

Students helping to dig foundations for the school
The month started with the foundations

On 9th July I arrived in Vanuatu, 10,000 miles from home and with a group of 8 strangers who I would spend the next 4 weeks living and working with. As excited as I was, it’s fair to say that this was a fairly daunting prospect at the start. After a short flight on a plane with barely 20 seats and a view straight into the cockpit, we climbed into the back of a pick-up truck with our luggage and were driven for 2 hours along the extremely bumpy rubble road towards Ranwas village. We had a wonderful welcome into the village, where we were introduced to our ‘island families’ and shown where we would be staying.

Over the four weeks in Ranwas, our team of 9, alongside the villagers, took the site from a bare patch in the jungle to the shell of the building that would be finished by the next team. The month started with the foundations; laying out the site, digging every hole, cutting the posts and anchoring them in each hole, and then filling them with concrete. This concrete was hand-mixed by loading all the elements (all 210kg of them) onto a plastic tarpaulin and mixing it by chucking the mixture around the tarpaulin for around 10 minutes. This was extremely tough and exhausting work, but worth it to see the foundations all completed and ready for the next stage.



Students sitting in the building framework
The building takes shape

This next stage was preparing the 11 timber portal frames which make up the structure of the building. It took almost a week to cut the 15 pieces per frame, chisel the notches into them, paint the edges, assemble them with perfect precision and bolt them together. When we finally had all this done, it was time to erect all the frames – easily the most exciting day of the whole project. It was a whole village effort to get each frame up and braced, but by the end of the day, it looked like we actually had a building at last. We had only expected to get this far in the time we had, but with the week and a half we had left, we managed to add bracing, roofing, floor beams, decking, window frames and even start out on the internal walls.

Working alongside these amazing villagers to build a school for the children we spent the month with was the most incredibly rewarding experience, and I’m so grateful to the support from BP which made this trip possible, and which secured future education for the Ranwas community.

Nicole Johnson

Year 2, Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering


A picture of the completed school
Vanuatu School










Posted in: BP Women in Engineering Award


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