The mirac­u­lous tent of­fer­ing shel­ter to refugees

Azer News - - Impact Journalism Day - By Priscilla Goy

FA home­less fam­ily on the streets of Mum­bai with their re­cently re­ceived weath­erHYDE Credit: bil­lionBricks or six years, a mar­ried home­less cou­ple were sep­a­rated and forced to live apart in Delhi, In­dia. The hus­band was in one gen­der-seg­re­gated com­mu­nal shel­ter and the wife in an­other. Last year, for the first time, they were able to move into their own “home”.

Their new “home” is a tent, de­signed by Sin­ga­pore-based, non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion bil­lionBricks. The tent can be set up by one per­son in 15 min­utes with­out any tools. It is weather-re­sis­tant, of­fer­ing pro­tec­tion from the city’s ex­treme tem­per­a­tures which can range from 5 - 45 de­grees Cel­sius (40 - 115 Fahren­heit). It is also spa­cious, with the abil­ity to fit a fam­ily of two adults and three chil­dren. The cou­ple even moved in a bed, ex­plains bil­lionBricks founder, Pra­soon Ku­mar.

More than 20 home­less fam­i­lies pi­lot-tested the tent in Delhi and Mum­bai. Mr. Ku­mar said homelessness is dif­fi­cult to erad­i­cate but con­sid­ers the tents to be an im­por­tant in­terim so­lu­tion. “Time is re­quired to find sus­tain­able so­lu­tions, but there’s also a hu­man­i­tar­ian need and as time passes, peo­ple are dy­ing.”

The lack of ad­e­quate hous­ing across the world is a huge prob­lem, with the United Na­tions es­ti­mat­ing that there were ap­prox­i­mately 100 mil­lion peo­ple home­less in 2005, which was the last time a global sur­vey was done. Many more die as a re­sult of ex­po­sure to ex­treme tem­per­a­tures.

The Sin­ga­pore-de­signed weath­erHYDE tent is made to be weath­er­proof. In the win­ter, the tent’s triple-layer, re­versible cover pro­vides in­su­la­tion, while re­flec­tive ma­te­rial on the in­side re­tains body heat. Con­versely, in the sum­mer, the other side can be used to re­flect so­lar heat and help peo­ple in­side the tent stay cool. “But that is only one of the ben­e­fits a weath­erHYDE tent of­fers over other typ­i­cal com­mu­nal shel­ters and tents,” said Mr. Ku­mar.

Apart from bat­tling the el­e­ments, the weath­erHYDE tent pro­vides more pri­vacy be­cause the triple-layer cover also blocks out light, so shad­ows from move­ment in­side the tent can­not be seen. Its setup is easy and does not re­quire an­chor­ing to the ground with tent pegs, mak­ing its use pos­si­ble in ur­ban set­tings (ar­eas of­ten hit by nat­u­ral dis­as­ters).

Its unique de­sign has at­tracted global at­ten­tion. In July of last year, videos about the tent gar­nered more than 23 mil­lion views within a month of be­ing posted on­line. Even celebri­ties shared the videos. Well­known Hol­ly­wood ac­tor Ash­ton Kutcher called it “in­no­va­tion at its finest” and rap­per Lil’ Wayne said it “could save mil­lions of lives”.

Mr. Ku­mar had been work­ing in ar­chi­tec­ture for 12 years when he de­cided to start bil­lionBricks in 2013. Though orig­i­nally from In­dia, he has lived in Sin­ga­pore for more than a decade. He sketched out the tent’s first de­sign con­cept in 2014, af­ter be­ing trou­bled by an in­ci­dent the year be­fore. Ri­ots in a town in north­ern In­dia had left thou­sands of fam­i­lies home­less and more than 30 chil­dren died when tem­per­a­tures fell to be­low freez­ing at night. “Sev­eral non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions were there to help. The peo­ple were given tents, tarps, and blan­kets, but no one was think­ing about the ex­treme tem­per­a­tures,” he said. “Sleep­ing bags aren’t ad­e­quate– if a mother has a young child, how will the sleep­ing bag be big enough for the two of them sleep to­gether? And even if they could squeeze them­selves in, their heads would still be ex­posed to the cold.”

Last year, bil­lionBricks also launched a crowd­fund­ing cam­paign on Kick­starter and raised more than S$145,000 (just over 100,000 USD) in two months, en­abling them to pro­vide 500 tents to needy fam­i­lies. The tents cost S$279 (199 USD). The 500 pre-or­dered tents are ex­pected to be shipped from China to In­dia and the US some­time this July.

bil­lionBricks, in its ap­pli­ca­tion for the in­ter­na­tion­ally-ac­claimed A’ De­sign Award’ stated that the tent “does not pro­vide a poor so­lu­tion to the poor; it pro­vides a dig­ni­fied so­lu­tion”. The tent went on to be named one of 12 win­ners in the So­cial De­sign cat­e­gory in 2015.

Mean­while, there have been sev­eral re­fine­ments to the tent’s de­sign since the mar­ried cou­ple gave it a test run. There are new lock­ing mech­a­nisms and both sides – not just the non-re­flec­tive layer – are now wa­ter­proof. bil­lionBricks has also re­launched its weath­erHYDE web­site (www.weath­, with a sec­tion where donors can type in a tent’s unique ID num­ber to learn more about the home­less fam­ily who re­ceived the tent they do­nated. Be­yond pro­vid­ing shel­ter, bil­lionBricks also hopes to of­fer jobs to the needy. They are in talks with US groups to cre­ate jobs for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties to have them man­u­fac­ture the tents.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion has sev­eral spon­sors, in­clud­ing DBS Bank’s cor­po­rate foun­da­tion, DBS Foun­da­tion, and Sin­ga­pore-based de­sign firm Space Ma­trix. Mr. Ku­mar hopes to con­tinue to raise money through the weath­erHYDE e-com­merce plat­form, where the tents can be pur­chased and do­nated on a buy-one-give-one model and shipped any­where in the world.

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