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A tale of an abandoned ethnic minority dwelling
2013-12-27    Author:YhaChina    Source of information:YhaChina    Page views:11574

A tale of an abandoned ethnic minority dwelling


During the course of searching for a place for social service project with Prof. Xiang Rong and Dr. Luk Tak Chun of Heart to Heart Community Care, Mr Rawdon Lau (Former Secretary General & Chief Executive of International Youth Hostel Federation) discovered, by accident, a deserted “Bai” ethnic minority dwelling in the outskirts of Kunming. He was very fond of this property and was determined to revitalise it for the purposes of conservation and youth hostelling. He put pencil to paper straight away.

 The renovation started in early 2012 and most of the building work was finished by the end of the same year. With the exception of the installation of the necessary ablution facilities, improvement of acoustics and a new skylight at reception area, the appearance of the whole building is retained. The project was handed over to Heart to Heart Community Care, of which Prof. Xiang Rong is the Chair, to run as a social enterprise. Mr Lau holds the fort as the honorary project director in the meantime.


 A Place where Nature and Soul meets

The hustle and bustle of city life keeps us away from nature - Watching sun rise and set or the stars in the sky has become an expensive or unfamiliar event for many people nowadays. But nature has rules and nature rules - it brings awakening to people and cleanses their soul. We help those who help themselves to appreciate mighty nature and to learn from it – whether as a private retreat, a weekend farming experience, an exploration of the countryside or an environmental awareness exercise - it will all give you a new dimension of living and value, so come and join us!


The House

The main building was constructed by means of a timber framework. An extension of a reinforced concrete structure was added to it forming a central courtyard at later stage. It was a typical 2-storey dwelling for the “Bai” ethnic minority. However, this type of house is diminishing in the surrounding area nowadays. The main building's structural wall and partition walls were made of mud bricks, which are a natural material with excellent insulation properties. Under the eaves of the main building, there are hand-crafted lanterns and waves symbolizing fortune and fertility. Two stone lions at the original main gate were built to keep evils away and to protect the family.

The house had once accommodated 12 families of 4 generations of “Bai” people; the main wing was for the elderly and the juveniles, the two side wings were occupied by the two sons – the elder son on the right and younger son on the left. This was the profile of the heyday of the family.

The field outside the house was once a farming base for grains, but due to the change in demand in the recent years, part of it is now used to grow vegetables and some part left empty.

The exhibition room on the 1st floor of the main building was the hall of ancestors of the family. The room is kept as it was during the renovation to show the origins of this house and to pay respect to the family.

About the Hostel

With its facade untouched, the hostel has been converted into a contemporary accommodation inside. The hostel provides plenty of open space, an amphitheatre, a meeting room, a camp site and open courtyard, and is ideal for a countryside retreat, outdoor activities, training sessions and conferences. There are also historical temples, ethnic minority villages, bike tracks, country parks, rock climbing walls, a grass ski field, a pottery workshop, a paintball range and walking trails in the vicinity. In addition, the route to Tuan Jie Zhen is a popular and challenging route for cyclists.

There are many fruits and vegetables available for sale locally, and visitors are able to pick strawberries, apples, plums and pears when in season.

This hostel is run by "Heart to Heart Community Care" (A Registered Charity in Kunming) for the advancement of education, culture, environment and social development. Proceeds are used for the aforementioned social services.


How our social enterprise is different

* It is a business with a mission & vision for the benefit of our society;

* Making money is important but not the top priority or prime


* Profits from the business charitable activities;

* The mission underpins our business operations and prevails when there is a conflict

of interest.



Right from scratch, sustainable development was taken into prime consideration for the renovation work of this house, based on following principles:

* Minimise construction waste;

* Use of recycled building materials;

* Apply energy saving systems wherever possible;

* Conservation


Reduction of Construction Waste

In order to reduce construction waste and minimise the damage to the original features of the house, we adopted a creative design for the bathroom partitioning, keeping change to the layout of the house to a minimum level and allowing plenty of natural light.

Furniture and fitting were repainted or renewed instead of purchasing from new. A typical example of this is how we took down the metal control panel on old bedside stools, replacing them with plywood boards and repainting them, turning them into very attractive, colourful and practical bedside table. Another example is how we pasted newspaper onto walls – instead of using wallpaper - to create an alternative, modern design.


Use of Recycled/Used Building Materials

The walkway and pavilion in the sitting out area are all made of used rail sleepers, which can be reused in the future if required. The roof of the pavilion is partially built with a glass sky light so that minimal artificial lighting is needed.

Display boards at Exhibition room are wardrobe/cupboard doors (taken down from old wardrobes). Planters at the entrance are timber originally for concrete formwork.

Energy Saving

Solar heating provides about 60% of the hot water supply. Linens are sun-dried whenever the weather permits. As a result, considerable carbon emissions are reduced.

There is use of natural light in corridors, bath rooms, bed room and common area wherever possible. 98% of lights in the hostel are either energy saving bulbs or LED.

Used water is collected for gardening. Waste water discharged from the washing machine is kept in underground sediment tank for supplementary toilet flushing. As this water carries soap and bleach residue, it helps to reduce the use of chemical cleansing agents.

Environmental Practices

We believe the care of the environment is a shared mission, so every small drop counts in our daily routine. For instance:

Recycling bottles, tins, cans, paper, batteries, plastic bags, bottle tops, eggshells etc.
No disposable items, such as slippers, tooth brushes, toothpaste, shower gel etc
Providing drinking fountain to reduce the use of plastic bottles
Use of vacuum cooker to save energy
Use kitchen waste oil to make soap or alternative lighting
Use natural cleansing products to replace detergent
No smoking except designated area
Providing buckets in bath rooms to encourage hostellers to keep bathing water for flushing the toilet

Rural Social Work Outpost

Starting from 2014, Heart to Heart Community Care runs social service especially for ethnic minority groups in Tuan Jie Zhen. Full time social workers based at the Youth Hostel provide professional social services to villagers ranging across children, youth, women and the aged. Long term community development and improvement strategies such as environmental hygiene, organic farming and neighbourhood watch are in the pipeline.


A brief note about Yunnan Heart to Heart Community Care

We aim to develop a caring, tolerant, supportive and integrated society in conjunction with and for the migrant worker community. Working hand-in-hand, shoulder-to-shoulder with them, we aim to accompany them in improving their quality of life.

(More about Heart to Heart:


We believe:

Everyone should have dignity and feel valued!

Everyone should be treated equally and fairly!

Everyone can change and is capable of making a change!  






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