Bakwit Kit by DesignNovator
Barangay 77, Fatima Village Tacloban City
Heidrun Milan (Team Lead), Joppa Lydda De Guzman, and Jeff Villegas of the Philippine Institute of Interior Designers – Eastern Visayas Chapter
The Bakwit Kit is a flat-packed evacuation kit that offers dignified spaces and the comforts of a home in evacuation centers.
The bakwit kit are utilized for various needs of evacuation centers, including health and safe spaces for children and women. The team further envisioned that evacuation can be easily enforced as the vulnerable families expect the protected and dignified evacuation centers they deserve.
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The Bakwit Kit team hopes to work with local disaster risk reduction and management offices to incorporate the innovation into their plans.
We put plastic chairs on every corner of the area we occupied to establish a boundary. If we didn’t, there would literally be no space between our family and the ones next to us. Most of the people who make up an evacuation center are children, and in my experience, it doesn’t feel safe. It’s a mixed crowd of men and women and when the children need to get changed, breastfeed or sleep, they’re in full view of everyone. At night you’re swatting off all these mosquitoes, and it’s hard to get any rest, because you’re worried about how your kids are doing.
I’m a Yolanda survivor. After seeing such devastation, as an interior designer, I asked myself what my position was in disaster response. We’ve all seen the situations within evacuation centers after the typhoon, and I think it’s within our power as interior designers to address because it happens within an interior space. That’s why we came up with the Bakwit Kit.
The Bakwit Kit is a flat-packed evacuation kit that contains a framing system made from PVC pipes, soft canvas partitions for privacy, mosquito nets, and collapsible furniture pieces. These take a minimum of two people to assemble, and are exclusively meant to house individuals inside evacuation centers. The Bakwit Kit creates physical boundaries, dignified spaces, and establishes privacy, which consequently gives added protection against possible gender-based violence and abuses towards children especially girls and young women in open spaces, as well as further psychosocial complications for disaster survivors.
In November 2013, super typhoon Yolanda struck the Philippines, making its most deadly impact in Leyte and Samar. International news reports called it “the deadliest Philippine typhoon on record.” Winds were recorded at 185 kilometers per hour, but it appears that storm surges caused the bulk of the damage. Storm surges were averaging 15 to 19 feet, claiming and crushed existing structures within Tacloban. The city administrator would later confirm that 90% of the entire city had been destroyed. The amount of deaths was staggering, with dead bodies being discovered well into 2014. While there was no way to fully determine the number of lives lost, the Philippine Red Cross issued a number in November 2015 saying that 22,000 persons had gone missing since the onslaught of Yolanda, many of whom were children caught and lost in the current. News coverage in the aftermath would appropriately call this disaster apocalyptic.
Luzviminda, a mother of six, recounts her experience with disaster. When Yolanda made landfall in 2013, she had 3 small children and was pregnant with another. Her home and all her earthly possessions had just been washed out by the flood, and so she decided to evacuate to Fatima Church. It had sustained a fair bit of damage, still seemed safer than anywhere else. She had her sick father and children in tow, and was physically separated from her husband because he had his responsibilities to fulfill as a village officer. “Due to the church damage, there wasn’t really anywhere comfortable to rest. We looked for planks of plywood that had been flown in by severe winds to sleep on, because all our blankets and mats were soaked. If not, we slept standing up.” This compounded heavily on her struggles, wondering if she would ever see her husband again and how she was going to provide sustenance for her children. She says tearfully, “We had evacuated to the safest place I thought possible, and I still didn’t know if we were going to make it.”
In 2017, typhoon Urduja hit Eastern Visayas once again, and Tacloban was placed under a state of calamity. According to news reports, over 80 barangays were flooded and 8 struck by landslides. By this time, however, the city government had allocated 57 million pesos for disaster risk reduction and management, including a “17-million-peso quick reaction fund” for relief operations. The city’s social welfare office estimated a city-wide evacuation or about 750 families. The estimated number of fatalities in Leyte was 5, with 3 persons recorded missing.
Luzviminda and her family would evacuate again in 2017, this time to a different evacuation center. And while she noted that there was a higher scale of preparedness this time around, privacy and protection were definitely the usual issues. “We put plastic chairs on every corner of the area we occupied to establish a boundary. If we didn’t, there would literally be no space between our family and the ones next to us. Most of the people who make up an evacuation center are children, and in my experience, it doesn’t feel safe. It’s a mixed crowd of men and women and when the children need to get changed, breastfeed or sleep, they’re in full view of everyone. At night you’re swatting off all these mosquitoes, and it’s hard to get any rest, because you’re worried about how your kids are doing.”
Evacuation centers in the Philippines are normally repurposed gymnasiums, schools, churches, barangay centers, and any other wide, covered spaces. In disaster situations, these can overcrowd and are filled beyond capacity, which while understandable, fails to provide dignity, privacy, protection and basic necessities.
In most cases, when a family evacuates to a center, all they have with them are their go-bags, which have a minimal amount of essentials geared towards simple survival. There are rarely any beds, and evacuees are expected to sleep on cardboard or scrap material. Evacuees lie next to each other, as many as can fit within the entire open space, and all of their daily activities like eating or changing their clothes also happen in the same space. The average length of an evacuee’s stay in these centers is usually between three to five days.
The lack of demarcation of personal spaces is compromising for the evacuees’ general protection and psychosocial health, especially in the wake of disaster-related trauma. This also, quite alarmingly, puts women and children especially girls and young women at higher risk of mistreatment, harassment, and gender-based violence. While it is of utmost importance that evacuation centers place priority on providing food, water, medication, and other similar necessities, there is value in elevating the provision of assistance beyond mere survival. Evacuees who’ve left their homes and belongings in search of protection should be safe in every manner of the word, not only from the elements outside. Maintaining a sense of dignity, even in the most extreme of situations, should not have to be a luxury for any woman, man, or child.
“Bakwit comes from a Bisaya term meaning evacuees,” explains team leader Heidrun Milan. “I’m a Yolanda survivor. After seeing such devastation, as an interior designer, I asked myself what my position was in disaster response. We’ve all seen the situations within evacuation centers after the typhoon, and I think it’s within our power as interior designers to address because it happens within an interior space. That’s why we came up with the Bakwit Kit.”
The Bakwit Kit is a flat-packed evacuation kit which contains the following: PVC pipes, 3D-printed connectors with customized slip sockets, and screw gliders for the framing system; a 3” thick folding mattress; a folding table and folding boxes with linen upholstery for storage, which also double as stools; a solar-powered lamp; soft curtains with Velcro tabs; and a mosquito net. These are all encased in two storage boxes made from PalmEco panels, mounted on ball casters, and equipped with a lock system. The storage boxes, combined with the mattress, are meant to act as a low bed.
Once put together, the kit creates what is essentially a makeshift room with clearly defined aspects: a bed for sleeping, a table for eating, mosquito net for protection, curtains to draw for private activities, soft canvas which assists in passive cooling, several options of storage boxes for personal belongings. There is a sense of established order, which is greatly helpful in the midst of the inevitable chaos surrounding any situation requiring evacuation.
Similarly, components of the kit are made with materials endemic to the location of where the kit will be placed. In the case of Leyte and Samar, mats made of ticog banig are provided. This can easily be switched out for inabel in Luzon or malong in Mindanao to further contextualize the entirety of the kit. While it further elevates the aesthetic, its purpose is also to enhance the kit’s function in providing it with roots and a sense of place. To hearken to local culture allows the kit to suggest a sense of home, providing a kind of assurance to evacuees that less customized options may not be able to provide.
This kit takes at least two people to assemble, which can be accomplished in an hour, and once it’s done, can house three to five persons at any given time. The intention is for the kits to remain within the evacuation centers, where they are to be assembled by both DRRM personnel and members of the local community once warnings of severe weather or incoming have been issued days before. In this respect, the Bakwit Kit also enforces the idea of actual preparedness and empowerment through a more organized response, rather than simply reacting to events within minutes or hours of their occurrence. Milan says, “I felt it was a very simple project and I hesitated at first, but it turned out that it was really a need and this was something we could do. Disaster preparedness is not just for one sector, but for everyone to pitch in.”
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT AND IMPACT
An important part of community engagement was the Bakwit Kit team asking boy and girl children, young people, men and women, elderly and persons with disability how they felt in evacuation centers. Children and youth, ages three up to eighteen, expressed concern regarding overcrowding within evacuation centers. Likewise, even the youngest in the range understood the need and expressed a desire for privacy. Women in the group expressed that they felt unnecessarily exposed and vulnerable to unwanted attention.
Using the method of design charette—employing the use of building blocks, sticks and clay, collages, popsicle sticks, and the like—children, youth, Persons with disability, LGBTQI+, women, skilled workers, and elderly were able to communicate what for them were cornerstones in evoking a sense of home. One eleven year-old boy in particular drew trees surrounding his home, saying that it would provide protection for the flood and would act as a watershed. Milan says, “It shows that even kids understand what is going on in the environment, and it pushes us as designers to make more efficient products.”
Milan also notes that developing the Bakwit Kit specifically in Tacloban was especially important, because the communities here have a level of experience with disaster that is incomparable to many. He explains, “Their experience gives them the perspective we need to tap in order to refine our prototypes the best that we can.”
During this stage of development, Milan’s team acquired essential information from the community that would lead to key pivots:
- After learning about the common occurrence of evacuees contracting dengue especially post-typhoon, the team integrated a mosquito net overlay into the design, which was not initially part of the first prototype.
- They added the use of magnets as closures to the mosquito net so that it can be opened quickly and easily in the event of emergencies.
- The larger storage boxes, originally made from plywood, were switched out for PalmEco boards. PalmEco is stronger than plywood, fire-resistant, water-resistant, termite-proof, and rodent-resistant. The latter is particularly important, because it means that families can store food rations inside these boxes.
- After testing the assembly, it was decided to make custom 3D-printed connectors instead of using the readily available connectors on the market. The longer slip sockets made for more convenient and foolproof assembly.
- PVC pipes were stuffed with soft recycled plastics to add weight and stability to the bottom of the structure.
Community member Luzviminda, who’s been involved in testing the Bakwit Kit throughout its development, says that while more help is always great, she can assemble the kit quite easily. She says that it’s comfortable and gives her a sense of security, especially with regard to the state of well-being of her young daughters. She also says that she thinks the design and its thoughtful additions are perfect. “As a finished project, it has everything you could really want or need.” She adds with a laugh, “The only thing missing is the people to live in it.”
That being said, having the Bakwit Kits ready for use is also a great help to LGUs in their calls for evacuation. Members of the local community are more likely to evacuate more quickly, as well as be more involved or participatory during the duration of their stay at the evacuation centers, knowing that their safety and dignity prioritized on top of their needs will be provided.
Milan concludes, “Filipinos are often perceived as resilient, to the point of being content with what is given to us. With the Bakwit Kit, the community realized that we can provide them with better options. This is very helpful in coping with the sense of trauma in disasters. It doesn’t just solve the problems of physical space, but of mental health and well-being.”
While the cost of each kit in its current format stands at around 75,000 ($1,500), fabricating in bulk or optioning out certain accessories will definitely lower the cost. The Bakwit Kit team hopes to work with DRRM offices on both the barangay and city levels to incorporate the innovation into their DRRM plans. They are also widening the scope of the kit’s use, looking into possible uses such as clinics, safe spaces to support the significance of the innovation and its necessity. There are plans to incorporate modules on how to engage the community, schools, and vulnerable sectors, complementing the human-centered design approach initiated in the development of the innovation.
Their next steps are to register and patent the innovation, to market to NGOs specifically focused on emergency response and relief, to further reduce the cost of the overall kit, and to engage in social enterprise.