Mission Possible - Cyclone proof houses in Tonga.


Babbage and a small team of staff have been on a mission in Tonga - building cyclone-resistant houses ahead of the new cyclone season.

The team, led by former Babbage principal Murray Harding, spent a fortnight in the Pacific kingdom in late-2016 on a 10-house project for the international charity Habitat for Humanity.

Babbage sponsored seven of the 11-member team, with the eighth, a builder colleague of Murray’s, paying his own way and the other three being assigned to the team after volunteering to Habitat independently.

Each Babbage team-member used their annual leave for the project, and Babbage paid a significant proportion of the cost of their travel, food and accommodation.

“We finished houses that were nearing completion and built three more from scratch in the fortnight, and local labour will do the last two,” Murray said.

“We worked five and a half days a week, often from 6.30am to 6.30pm with a two or three-hour break in the hottest part of the day, and sometimes had local apprentices working with us.

“It was an incredible experience and at the end all of the team said they would be keen to do it again in future.”

The houses, built near the Tongan capital Nuku’alofa, are part of a Habitat programme to build 100 cyclone-resistant homes in Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.

The materials for the homes were pre-cut by working bees in South Auckland and shipped to the islands. The houses are large one-room ply-clad dwellings with corrugated iron roofs retained with high-wind fixings, and built on raised foundations to reduce the risk of flooding.

The main room is used for living and sleeping, while a kitchen area is built outside at the rear and there is also a bathroom with a shower and toilet.

Babbage staff joining Murray were former principal and process and mechanical engineer Tony Stack-Forsyth, from Auckland; Conrad Korten, project manager and process engineer, from Melbourne; Roger Chen, structural engineer from Christchurch; and Echo Gao, documentation administrator from Auckland.

Babbage also helped sponsor Queenstown electrician Roger Norton and Auckland apprentice Jason Young, while the other members were Murray’s colleague Martin Jacomb from Auckland, fellow Aucklanders Erica Doran and Graham Gibbs, and Tadeusz Piszel from New Plymouth.

Murray says the families selected for the houses must raise the money to buy them - a loan system through banks is available - and must also help with the construction.

“They end up with something affordable which they value, and they reap the benefits of a safe, healthy house,” he said.

“It also makes a difference to the extended family.”

It’s Murray’s third project for Habitat after stints in Samoa and Nepal, but for the other Babbage staff it was a revelation.

For Conrad, who joined Babbage in 2016, the project was an opportunity to work with colleagues as a team.

“One of the things that struck me about [Babbage] was that it has the brawn of a large professional organisation, but at the core beats the heart of small-business ethics with a strong sense of family and community spirit,” he said.

“The experience in Tonga reinforced these key values.”Roger joined the team to be “part of a team to help people in need”.

The highlight was seeing the person the house was being built for sitting on top of the framing, enjoying the view.

For Echo, it was a “totally unforgettable and amazing experience”.

“I must confess that I have had many regrets in life for making decisions too quickly, which have resulted in poor consequences,” she said.

“However, this time I believe I’ve done myself a favour and I should pat myself on the back for being impulsive to grip the opportunity to Tonga with the team.”

Babbage help cyclone proof houses in Tonga.