When Typhoon Glenda tore through Southern Luzon in July 2014, some of UP Los Baños’ treasured trees—old and huge acacia and mahogany—didn’t escape the tropical cyclone’s wrath. But they’ve been given new life, so to speak, as furniture in all ten UPLB dormitories.
This was initiated by the UPLB Housing Office (UHO), which takes care of student and staff housing on campus. And UHO Director Zoilo Belano Jr. says they’re not even done. Four years after the disaster, there are still slabs of wood waiting to be repurposed and pieces in the makeshift workshop to be finished.
Saving trees, saving on cost
Belano explains that when he proposed the project to campus officials, he told them that he didn’t want the trees to simply go to waste and that he had seen wood furniture in Australia they could use as inspiration. In addition, the University wouldn’t have to spend on plastic furniture for the residence halls.
It wasn’t hard to get the UPLB administration on board. “Chancellor Fernando Sanchez and Vice Chancellor for Community Affairs Serlie Jamias loved the idea and even showed me some examples of repurposing they had seen in Japan,” Belano continues.
The UHO carpenters got to work. Their main duties were focused on repairs and other minor construction jobs for housing units under the UHO jurisdiction. Furniture-making wasn’t really part of their tasks and it was something many had to learn.
Even with the lack of tools for such an activity, they persisted and learned from their more knowledgeable co-workers. It was a side project they worked on when they weren’t called to the dorms and staff housing units to do repairs.
UPLB is lucky to have its carpenters, Belano says, because dorm residents now enjoy a variety of tables and benches where they can eat, study, work on their projects, or hang out. There are long and wide pieces of furniture to accommodate big groups, long and high tables with wheels paired with bar stools, round tables with chairs for smaller groups, and outdoor tables and chairs for those who want to go al fresco. Even dorm kitchens have been furnished.
Building capacity, inspiring creativity
Those pieces are not the only good things to come from the initiative.
Some of the workers discovered they were quite good at making furniture. “They are proud of what they have accomplished and they deserve to be. It makes me happy that we were able to help them acquire new skills and realize talents they didn’t know they had,” Belano says.
Luis Dela Cruz, a UHO foreman assigned to staff housing, is one of the lead employees in the project. He reveals that the assignment really encouraged them to think creatively in not only using as much of the wood as possible, but also appropriating its use and making it aesthetically pleasing.
“It takes an active imagination. There are times when I would sit and stare at the wooden slab and its shape and curves. And then the idea suddenly just comes to me,” Dela Cruz says, explaining his process.
Working on the furniture seems to be a welcome respite from doing housing repairs for the UHO carpenters. They profess their enjoyment at creating things and seeing their handiwork being of use to students, staff, and visitors in the residence halls.
While the UHO wishes it could have better tools and equipment to handle furniture-making, it takes pride in its workers’ resourcefulness and ingenuity. And it excitedly waits for the next batch of furniture to be completed and delivered to the dorm that needs it.