Mantanani Basketcases

by | September 1st, 2011 | Arkitrek Volunteers, Camps International, Mantanani Kindergarten | One Comment

Mantanani Basketcases

Text and photos by Ian Hall

Our Kindergarten on Mantanani Island has come on a treat these last 4 months thanks to the dedication of our Volunteer Michelle Martin and her team from Camp Borneo and the Mantanani community. We’re just about to get the roof superstructure up and here is Michelle posing with a fine set of dwangs on her last day on the island.

The next stage is to put the roof on and for this Michelle has risen to the challenge of communicating structural principles of a ‘collar rafter’ and the relative merits of varying roof pitches to our doubting master-craftsman Albi. Apparently you do it by stacking cards. In the end though, language wasn’t the issue. What Albi was too proud to tell anyone is that he is scared of heights and no amount of cajoling and scaffolding would induce him up there to fix the rafters.

After the roof we need to sort out the cladding. For this we are adapting panels from a traditional weaving technique normally used for making rice threshing mats. In other words, our building will be a basketcase, or is that the fate for volunteers marooned on the island? Mind you, Michelle was a little crazy to get involved in the first place. She’s had to keep hundreds of school children busy painting, nailing, sawing, digging and basketweaving for three months.

The weaving was another challenge of communication, this time brokered by Arkitrek’s volunteer coordinator, Hasmartina. She was initially quoted MYR70 per piece for something similar to a rice threshing mat that you can buy from the roadside stall for less than MYR20. What we ended up with was buying the raw materials and paying the weaving ladies MYR30 per day to go to Mantanani to teach weaving to the school volunteers.

This was a great solution because the volunteers get more engagement with the locals and the locals get a paid jolly and the chance to diversify their enterprise. There were some politics to decide which ladies got to go on the jolly but it was all sorted out amicably.

Once on the Island we learned that the bamboo we had been delivered was the wrong type. Sarah is pictured on the left with some of the right type of bamboo; it is green and therefore easy to strip plus the culms are well spaced so you get a good length to weave with without a culm joint. Even with the right kind of bamboo, Michelle and Camp Manager, Aida found that cuts from the sharp shavings placed a heavy toll on the camp sticking plaster stocks, even when wearing protective gloves.

Our team produced 25 finished cladding panels, so that leaves only 225 to go which we’ll either pay the weaving ladies to do themselves or get them back to teach. The challenge remaining for a future Arkitrek Volunteer is to figure out how to arrange and fix the finished panels on the walls of the kindergarten. Some people call this ‘the design process’ and others call it ‘making it up as we go along’.

It was to her great credit that for all that was on her plate during her stay on Mantanani, Michelle succeeded to maintain the integrity of our design, stay friends with everyone and keep her sanity…

….I don’t know how she managed it:)

Bamboo shavings after weaving work.

Some finished cladding panels stacked up at Camp Mantanani



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One Comment for Mantanani Basketcases


Michelle Martin

[…] Michelle arrived as a quiet, slightly hesitant northern girl for our Arkitrek Camp1. However, her bubbly personality and infectious laugh soon made their mark. Overcoming homesickness, culture shock and the daily rice intake, she stayed on for a further 3 months and supervised the construction of the kindergarten on Mantanani. She became a highly competent leader as well as a soto (noodle soup) addict. More about Michelle […]

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