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Homes for Malaysia: An Epic Home-building Journey

Building Homes for the Orang Asli 

By: Ruthravathy Tenaigaran

82% of Orang Asli (indigenous) communities in Malaysia are in need of housing. Many Orang Asli communities still struggle to secure safe housing due to poverty and land dispossession. 

To make a difference, the M'KIS Homes for Malaysia team, comprising grade 10, 11, and 12 students, partnered with Epic Homes, a local non-profit organization that builds homes for Orang Asli families in need.

In October 2023, they successfully constructed a house in just three days through this collaboration. 

Restarting after COVID-19

Homes for Malaysia has been partnering with Epic Homes, a local non-profit organization with the goal of building homes for Orang Asli communities, since 2018. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Homes for Malaysia had to pause their activities.

Just last year, teacher and Assistant MS/HS Principal Aubree Cunningham, and her husband, Ryan Cunningham, worked with a committed team of high school students to restart the partnership with Epic Homes.

A Community-Backed Effort 

Homes for Malaysia decided to work with Epic Homes to build a house in Hulu Selangor, which is located about an hour away from Kuala Lumpur.

To accomplish this home-building project, fundraising was necessary to acquire construction materials such as cement, bricks, concrete, and wood.

Homes For Malaysia raised funds for the build through the annual Christmas Bazaar event organized with the M’KIS Parent Association (PA). The bazaar raised RM 16,000 through featured performances from M’KIS students and the sale of artisan food, crafts, and goods. 

In addition to the event, funds were contributed by individuals, companies, and other generous donors!

Learning How to Help

While fundraising for the build, the Homes for Malaysia team took the initiative to understand the community they were working with and to learn the skills required to safely and effectively build a home for the Orang Asli community. 

As curious learners, they organized and participated in a workshop organized by Epic Homes. During the workshop, they learned and gained hands-on experience with various tools and equipment. For instance, they acquired skills in using nail guns to drive nails through wood, spanners to tighten or loosen screws or bolts, plank cutting machines for woodworking and more. They also received valuable insights into safety measures crucial for home construction, such as wearing hard hats, gloves, safety glasses, and vests. Finally, Epic Homes taught the students about the Orang Asli community, including their culture, life, and some of the challenges they face.

Through this learning experience, the students demonstrated personal commitment and intercultural understanding, key hallmarks of the International Baccalaureate learner’s profile.

The Build in Hulu Selangor 

With preparations complete, Homes for Malaysia, Ms. Aubree, and Ryan Cunningham traveled to Hulu Selangor in October 2023. They were even joined by two former M’KIS students, Mateo and Rohan, who were both visiting Malaysia and wanted to participate in the build.

Homes for Malaysia helped complete the construction of a wooden house in just three days. Students applied their training to various aspects of the build, learning and gaining experience along the way. The three-day build process involved footing the land, creating the house’s structure, flooring,  wall frames, wall panels, internal walls, and the roof.

Throughout the building process the students formed bonds with the local community, seeking to understand their culture, values, and way of life. 

At the end of the build, the students were overjoyed and fulfilled as they presented the completed house to Rusdi and his family, members of the indigenous community in Hulu Selangor. 

The completed house included a kitchen, bedrooms, a living room, and a foyer. The houses are built to meet the needs and the size of the family in need. If families wish to customize, they can work further with Epic Homes or within their own community to make the house fit their personal needs.

Grade 12 Student and Homes for Malaysia member, Gin Han said, “Being able to complete (the house) with my peers, teachers and friends was just so heartfelt. Personally if you ask me would I do it again, I’d say absolutely. It is truly a life changing moment.” 

Moving Forward 

To ensure their fundraising efforts keep momentum, Homes for Malaysia recently presented a summary of their work to the M’KIS community, speaking at events such as the Fun Fair, Christmas Bazaar, and even during school lunches.

One of their presentations was attended by the founder of Epic Homes, John-son Oei, who personally congratulated the students for their remarkable efforts. “Just like Rusdi, there are still about 10,000 to 12,000 families that have been identified to need homes amongst the Orang Asli,” he said.  “We really hope that we can continue this relationship and together with the Homes for Malaysia team, we hope to be able to put a dent to this number,” he added. 

Building More Homes

Homes for Malaysia would like to thank Epic Homes for their partnership, Ms. Aubree and Ryan Cunningham for their guidance and support in restarting Homes for Malaysia, and last but not least, all teachers, students, and alumni who participated in the build.

M’KIS Homes for Malaysia is creating change right here in Malaysia, one home at a time!

 

Homes for Malaysia is actively initiating fundraising efforts for the next build. For those who would like to contribute to this valuable cause, kindly visit the Homes For Malaysia crowdfunding page.

If you wish to volunteer or contribute in any way to this initiative, please feel free to reach out to Ms. Aubree at a.cunningham@mkis.edu.my