Conserving My Place of Worship
2 Plus 5 stands for my partner Myo Thiha Kyaw and I, plus five engineering-oriented friends, who joined us to start a new company. We all know each other through university studies in Mawlamyine. There is a lot of new construction going on in the city, but one of our most interesting opportunities is the ongoing conservation work at First Baptist Church of Mawlamyine, where not coincidently, I am a member of its congregation.
Our involvement in World Monuments Fund’s project started through recommendation of my pastor, Reverend David Kyi Shein, who encouraged me to participate in the church’s renovation. After meeting WMF’s project manager Jeff Allen, an invitation soon followed to join their traditional lime plaster workshop in late November. Previous to this event we had never worked on an historic building, and the chance to learn something new that also helped my church was of interest. This is particularly valuable given the large inventory of colonial-era buildings in Mawlamyine. Many are deteriorating partly because there is so little knowledge in how to maintain them in an appropriate manner. Before the workshop we knew little about lime plasters. In a country where cement is king, the usual remedy is to slap that on for repairing old buildings, the consequences of which are only later seen and often misunderstood.
At the lime plaster workshop, under the guidance of Italian conservator Josephine D’Ilario from WMF’s Wat Chaiwatthanram project in Thailand, we learned about lime – how to slake it, how its aging is important, its proportions with aggregates, and how, when mixed right, it spreads on like peanut butter! It’s a lovely material to work with, and when topped with the kind of lime wash finishes we also made in the workshop with conservator Sanpoom Puthong from Thailand, it has a beautiful glow in our tropical sunlight.
After the six-day workshop, I was surprised when WMF asked 2 Plus 5 to continue and help renovate my church. Naturally, as a member of the congregation I took this seriously, and importantly, as a duty. Fresh out of training, our first assignment was to make repairs to exterior plasters in preparation to the church’s 190th anniversary. Those festivities were very important to me. The place we worked contains the church’s baptismal font where, in honor of the church’s founding in 1827, nineteen people including myself were baptized on December 9, 2017.
This year fortune continues to shine on 2 Plus 5, as we were again asked to assist WMF and its other consultants and contractors to remove the church’s asbestos-based roof sheeting. Asbestos is another building material misunderstood in Myanmar, but unlike lime, this one can be deadly. Our role was to ensure the roofing contractor followed safety procedures for its workers. To my knowledge this was the first time in Myanmar that international safety standards were applied in the removal of asbestos building materials, and we were privileged to work with WMF’s consultant Australian Phil Bamford, who flew in from Sydney. Mr. Bamford, a roofing contractor, specializes in removing asbestos roofing sheets like the kind that were on First Baptist Church. We assisted him in site preparations, building decontamination showers, securing personal protection equipment and importing specialized equipment through the Yangon port offices.
Our next assignments with WMF will be repairing the old flat roofs adjacent to where the asbestos was removed. These side roofs leaked and over the years were modified with sloped corrugated zinc metal sheeting. We also hope, if funds are raised, to utilize our newfound capabilities to repair all the exterior plasterwork, and provide the church a lot more of that lime-based sunshine glow. I am happy that 2 Plus 5 Company is part of the equation to preserve First Baptist Church of Mawlamyine.