The CVBTs roots are in Isarn, one of the poorest regions of Thailand. The majority of people work as farmers growing rice, but the area only gets enough rain to support one crop per year. Most of the region’s soil is infertile and there is little irrigation. About the time of CVBTs founding, 73.1% of the population was employed in agriculture (according to the 1989 Labor Force Survey from the National Statistical Office). Once finished harvesting their rice, the people are left without work during the barren dry season. About one million people in the Northeast leave their homes, moving to Bangkok and elsewhere to find work to support their families. Husband and wife may leave their children with grandparents for several months at a time. Children are deprived of good attention to their education. Youth who migrate to Bangkok risk being taken advantage of or falling in with the wrong crowd. This labor migration disturbs the social fabric of the Isarn people and the CVBT is working to do something about it.
The CVBT started as a development project of the Catholic Diocese of Udon Thani. It was founded by Geoffrey Wheeler who in searching for a way to create local employment opportunities saw market potential for Micro Concrete Roofing. Most people in Northeast Thailand were using Corrugated Galvanized Iron for roof construction because it was affordable. However, many were unhappy with this material as it made their homes hot and was noisy during the rainy season. MCR seemed like a good alternative because it is a reliable technology and the production equipment could be brought to Isarn easily, so manufacturing could take place locally. MCR would be cheaper than CGI and asbestos- cement sheet roofs. In determining an appropriate technology, Geoffrey also turned to MCR because it is asbestos free. Asbestos causes lung cancer in people who mine and make asbestos products. It is illegal in the western countries but still widely used in developing countries. After experimenting in 1990 and completing a feasibility study in 1991, Geoffrey was able to solicit some donations from The British Embassy and New Zealand Embassy. Production began in the spring of 1992. During this time the CVBT worked on improving the technology while also giving presentations and hosting visitations.
The CVBT has come a long way since the early years of its founding. It has expanded and diversified production, and increased its scope of influence. Part of the CVBTs mission is to produce and develop appropriate technology. This technology uses local resources, strives for sustainablity, and is suits the needs of the local community. So in an area such as Isarn where employment opportunities are sparse, labor intensive production technology is most fitting.
The CVBT began with the production of roofing tiles, but found the conventional ridge system inappropriate for the region’s market due to heaviness and lack of visual appeal. This system also did not allow for much variety in roof angle. So the CVBT developed a winged-ridge system consisting of two nesting curved ridges, a curved end cap, and wings that fit into the troughs of the tiles. This system is now world famous, used for construction in India and Latin America.
The CVBTs roofing tiles and ridges took a role in reconstruction after the tsunami, as groups like Habitat for Humanity and World Vision sought an asbestos free roofing option. Geoffrey spent a year in southern Thailand training villagers of Khao Lak to produce roof tiles which HFH and WV then purchased for reconstruction of homes and community facilities. With income from sales and generous donations the villagers began producing blocks and paving slabs, a more useful skill as reconstruction wound down and roofing demands decreased. This is just one of several communities the CVBT was privileged to support during tsunami reconstruction.
Another CVBT product is Interlocking Compressed Earth Blocks. These blocks have been popular as a low cost building material in the Southeast Asian region. The CVBT has expanded its influence by disseminating this technology through training courses and block press sales. Like the roof tiles, the presses and blocks were used in reconstruction after the tsunami. They were particularly successful in Indonesia after the tsunami and the subsequent earthquake in that region. ICEBs, with reinforcement, can be used to construct earthquake safe buildings. More specifically, Geoffrey spent time over several years giving training and equipment to groups on the island of Nias and in Aceh, working with Emergency Architects, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Engineers Without Borders, the Foundation for Asian Rural Life Development, and LPAM.
Block presses from CVBT can be found doing good work all over the world, in Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Burma, Zambia, South Africa, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and the United States. Other products sold by the villagers at the CVBT include ornamental paving slabs, and curved interlocking water tank blocks. The ornamental paving slabs have been quite successful in the region due to their diversity, beauty, and high quality.
Rice husk ash cement is a product in line with the CVBTs mission of promoting appropriate technology. In this cement, rice husk ash is mixed with Portland cement, rendering strength equal to that of 100% Portland cement at a lower cost.
The CVBT's Center is home to its main office and model factory where villagers work in production. It is also where the CVBT designs new technologies and innovations. It houses training facilities for group who want to come learn on site. The Center frequently takes interns from pretty much any faculty, but has resources to best support engineers. For more information see the section Interns.
CVBT funding comes from successful operation of a Revolving Fund. Maintaining a revolving fund requires a certain level of trust; ours has been sustained thanks to the commitment and cooperation of the villagers working at the center. A Revolving Fund starts with some seed money, ours came from our friends at the New Zealand Embassy. In the beginning the fund only supported raw material costs, but as sales began and some income accumulated it grew to cover labor and eventually overhead. So it revolves in that it pays out direct per piece production wages, raw materials and maintenance and then receives funds from product sales. As the fund expanded it grew to support salaried staff, capital investments, and make contributions to worthy causes.
The CVBT actually has two funds. The first fund is the villager’s and follows the course just outlined; this fund now sees growth of up to 30% per year. The second fund receives income from training and equipment sales, supporting related staff and some special projects. The CVBT is also in the business of giving out small loans. Many villagers are ignorant of banking and government systems. Many don’t know how to take out or responsibly pay back a loan, and live in a state of constant indebtedness. Villagers working at the CVBT have taken out loans for motorcycles, home improvements, or even building a new home.
Women receive a special focus at the CVBT. In Isarn society women receive less educational opportunity and lower wages. Therefore, a special effort is made to make production technology accessible for women and to give them an opportunity to work. All curriculums include a gender consciousness activity.
The CVBT has a Board of Directors which advises and helps to direct the work of the CVBT. Geoffrey Wheeler, Director, CVBT Kovit Upakarn, retired Senior Staff, FIAM Thaywee Chaiwiset, Senior Staff, World Vision Deborah Hoffman, Engineering Change Manager, Rockwell International