Saturday, August 20, 2016

Earth-building, Entrepreneurship, and Education - E3

Northwestern University visit in Evanston Illinois
Homes for Sudan (HS4S) is still focusing on building, but approaching from a different angle - that of education for entrepreneurship as well as the earth-building (the superadobe building method pioneered by Calearth). Portland State University and the University of Khartoum discussed re-crafting the social entrepreneurship and leadership certificate program to be more modular with joint teaching from both faculties in the Sudan and in Portland, as well as incorporating some train the trainer programs. Academic exchanges will serve multiple purposes: one, it will give flexibility to the certificate program and eliminate the need for travel or visas for the students and two, it will enable many more students to be taught. But primarily it should set up some of the young people who graduate with the innovation and tools to either start their own businesses or lead in programs to help better their own country. In addition to applying for grants, HS4S is also raising funds for these endeavors.

This summer HS4S - with the support of a generous Mennonite Sunday school class, Northwest State Community College, and two foundations (American and Sudanese) - brought two students from the University of Khartoum to the United States to work on perfecting their English writing and composition skills - important for both international relations and for any kind of global business endeavors. A lot of good people in the US and the Sudan worked together to make this visit an educational and cultural success!! Thank you to all who contributed!

It was a learning experience for Muslim students to see the varied forms of religious life thriving in the US such as the Amish of Ohio and Indiana, and the Mennonites; and ironic to hear a hijab wearing Muslim ask why the Amish live in the same way they did hundreds of years ago..? But they enjoyed hearing all of the similarities in the stories of the Bible and the Quran, as did their host families.

The students immersed in the local cultural - observing the president of the college do his own farm and yard work, their professor do all of her own house, farm and yard work, and their tutor's husband who is a psychiatrist/MD/PhD do his farm and yard work. It is culturally frowned upon in the Sudan for university graduates to do any kind of labor. The students gamely jumped in to help out with the work!

Of their time in the US, one of the students said: “I have discovered a new culture with a different perspective of life, a culture where children are raised to be responsible, women are less seen as wives and housekeepers, old citizens are perceived as seniors in their community and play a major role in providing counseling for the younger generations. It is a place where volunteering is a duty that everyone does to help other lives to become better and more beautiful for it does not require much skill or knowledge. It can be as simple as taking care of the gardens of public institutions, where everything is facilitated for people with disabilities to carry out their lives as normal people.”

They joined their hosts in some hard work on the farms, and tedious but rewarding tasks such as picking strawberries. On top of it all, they managed to start very intensive English composition courses plus one elective course each; all the while maintaining their Ramadan fasting.

Since the summer sun sets very late in the Great Lakes Region of Ohio - they had some long hours of fasting with their long hours of course work! They were somewhat surprised to learn how difficult and competitive it is to apply for good graduate programs in the United States. We know the summer and the future social entrepreneurship certificate program will give graduating students the advantages and tools they need to make a difference in their country and in the world!

Monday, January 11, 2016

University of Khartoum 2016

University of Khartoum Library

With the help on one of our past SIFE students, Homes for Sudan is rebuilding its website and discussing what the organization can do to foster technical and intellectual growth as well as safe housing in the Sudan - while most of the world is focused on South Sudan and its conflicts.
University of Khartoum's lancet arches 
HS4S founder is in Khartoum at the University of Khartoum working with graduate students in political science and mentoring the undergraduate English club as well as research.

Many factors have impacted education in the Sudan including budget spread to a larger number of schools, fewer faculty members doing their graduate education abroad, national budget percentage allocated to education, and limited access to international academic literature. The University is endeavoring to open doors for school exchange programs with local colleges and universities in the US and forging partnerships for education; as the US sanctions on education, medical equipment and agricultural supplies have been lifted on the Sudan.

Lancet arches supporting the halls and historic buildings of Gordon College (now University of Khartoum) from the turn of the century bring to mind the cultural as well as climate appropriateness of Homes for Sudan's 'superadobe' housing proposals and projects. Unfortunately, HS4S's workshop in Khartoum - as it was the very first one - produced the least beautiful dome structure, but a sturdy one that survived flood and neglect. Nevertheless, the workshops trained multiple students from the University of Khartoum, several of the independent technical schools, and semi-independent building organizations. In 2015, one of HS4S's team members visited the dome dwelling built in Tonj in 2009. In spite of recent conflict in South Sudan, the structure is being used to house 10 people and has stood strong in all of the adversity with little impact other than some of the external plaster peeling off.

Funding and partnerships are still tricky with the monetary transfer restrictions, but there is no less need for the housing and the technical training. Combining 'superadobe' workshops with technical training and even a type of international cultural training (suggested by one of the Sudanese ambassadors) has been discussed with the university and the local businessmen. The students and the country in general could profit from encouragement and entrepreneurial leadership training. In Darfur as well as Khartoum, an embedded culture of entitlement and expectations for answers and money from abroad prevails, when in fact all of the requisite resources are in the country already - including human capital. Innovation, leadership, and courage are all that are required.
Arches of Gordon College

The students at the university are very smart and eager to learn given open doors and willing faculty of which there are many. The opportunity to discuss masters' theses and general political science and international issues with the students is rewarding and the ability of the students to quickly grasp new concepts is impressive. The students have diverse interests for their theses, but one one recurring theme is the wisdom of the separation of South Sudan from the Sudan with all of its ensuing issues: citizenship, borders, loss of trade revenue, continuing conflicts, and new conflicts in the South. The students also have innovative ideas about the migration issues caused by conflicts in the MENA region and lingering issues on reconstruction and reconfiguration of governance in Darfur.

The University of Khartoum has regular visits of delegations from Darfur giving cultural demonstrations and local tribal dances on campus. The Darfur students receive financial aid for their tuition and housing from the government -- since the various peace treaties signed through international mediation have been partially implemented.

Homes for Sudan is proposing sponsoring some students for summer courses in the US as well as long distance learning courses on social entrepreneurship. Portland State University offers a certificate for online courses with training on leadership/entrepreneurship from the business school including a practicum section -- and is developing a partnership with the University of Khartoum. What is needed is funding for the students. La Sierra's Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) are still eager and willing to partner with Homes for Sudan on various projects given a revived interest in Sudan.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Future Partners

A Sudanese American businessmen recently expressed interest in partnering with HS4S.  We discussed the serious lack of craftsmanship knowledge in the Sudan and proposed some technical training in electrical, plumbing, and tile fitting skills. The workers would obtain technical training certificates upon completion of the buildings. 

A first project could be a small clinic in eastern Sudan. The organization has the requisite contacts with influential businessmen in the Sudan to pick a site with the permission of the local authorities and begin the project with CalEarth trained architects. As HS4S has trained close to a hundred architecture and engineering students in the Sudan and maintained contact with the organizations involved, finding some of our past students to help and supervise a new project is part of the work plan.

Pictured to the right is the South Sudan clinic building project from 2009.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Djibouti Dome and Khartoum, Sudan

After a long time away, HS4S Director and board member will be taking a trip back to the Sudan.  Recently, some of our past efforts in Darfur have borne fruit!  A young Sudanese who heard about the dome workshop in Nyala has started his own nonprofit for sustainable housing and asked our assistance.  We will investigate what possibilities there are with the nonprofit work on this trip considering the political situation.  Things are very rough in South Sudan right now, but the Sudan (north) is in flux as well, though reasonably stable.
In the mean time, we thought it would be nice to post the picture of the completed dome in Djibouti.  This was a double/two story dome that one of the reservists designed.  The villagers are so proud of this because they built it, they take care of it and they now know how to do this on their own! After this trip, we hope to rebuild the Homes for Sudan website (the director had to take some time off to make a living again).

Monday, May 14, 2012

Djibouti Eco-Dome for the Afar Nomad People - 2012

(Picture of Afar child in Djibouti)
The newly formed Sudans are currently in very vulnerable states  - with fighting between the Republic of the Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan over unresolved issues from the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005.  Access and fundraising are limited.  In the mean time, HS4S's founder has been working in Djibouti and - as a side line - started a project with the Afar villagers, the Djiboutian Armed Forces, and the US military Civil Affairs teams to build an Eco-Dome in the mountains.    The dome is particularly suitable for the extremely harsh climate in an area with little water and no electricity or roads. 
(HS4S Founder above left with KarabtiSan Child. Above right villagers starting construction of the dome at the end of 2011)
Karabti San is an Afar village about three quarters of the way between Lake Assal and Balho.  Three Civil Affairs teams have been working to start a project that is largely run by the villagers.  The Civil Affairs team from 2011 and 2012 - CPT Lev's team - took up the mantle from SGT Erickson's project of building a 'practice dome' (see last blog 2010) while building relationships with the villagers - and carried it to new heights in the hills of Djibouti.The number of children in this village is not great enough to warrant a state sponsored school but the Civil Affairs team garnered collective support to build a community center that could be used as a school and a clinic.  This is a basic earth building ( that will not require much upkeep, will still be in place if the nomads leave and return, and will not change the environment.  The nomads feel that since it is made of the earth, that Allah would approve.

Over two years, the team has won the trust, support and help of the villagers and the DJ army to do the project.  Much of the material was donated (by Homes for Sudan and others) and all of the work done by the villagers, the CA team and the DJ military.  The Karabti San dome is a simple two dome structure consisting of an 11 foot dome connected to a 20 foot dome.  This design is flexible.  On a recent visit by the ministry of health, they recommended that the villagers build an additional two single dome structures as two extra classrooms.  These would be much simpler than the attached domes. This dome has a loft second floor that could accommodate an itinerant teacher or nurse.
The Civil Affairs team and the Djiboutian military have brought the local Prefect, the sub Prefect, the Sultan, the ministry of health and education, as well as the World Food Program and the International Red Crescent into the project.  The WFP set up a food for work for the villagers who are working on the dome to get extra food rations.  Half of the villagers who reside in this area came from a remote village across the mountains (a 14 hour walk) where there is no road that the WFP could use for food delivery.  The villagers essentially have no means for earning a living except through their animals.  The dome project provided building skills for many of the men in the village.  Several of the men have gotten jobs as a result of the learning and left to work on paid projects such as road building.
 The team has two more visits scheduled before it returns to the USA and turns its projects over to the new team.  We hope to get the women of the village to participate in the plastering of the outside. The picture below shows an amazing relationship built over time with the villagers and the great pride and ownership that the villagers feel toward the building. 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

2010 New Faces

Young Ethiopians from HS4S Founder's trip to ET 
Taking inventory from the last four years, HS4S has some remarkable achievements unter its belt.  With less than 100,000 dollars, we have built four domes: one in Khartoum, one in Tonj, South Sudan, one in Nyala Darfur, and now, one in Djibouti.  But, even more significant than dome building, over 100 professional Architects, Engineers, contractors and IDPs know how to build the domes on their own.

Southerners add thatched look to Khartoum Dome
 Some of our partner architects in Khartoum have continued work on the teaching dome!  They hired Southerners to plaster the dome - and the Southerners have made it look like a thatched house in the South!  Our NGO partners in Darfur would like to build on a larger scale, but we are waiting for some of the Darfur expats and donors to bring in the funds for the Darfur community! In the mean time, our HS4S Founder and CEO is working in Djibouti on an academic advisory team.... So, while we all must work nowadays some of our Civil Affairs guys and gals who are working with the Djiboutian locals and the military think the domes are a great idea.  The local Red Crescent in Djibouti would also like to learn how to build the domes, so one of the Civil Affairs teams took up the challenge - found some sandbags and cement on the camp - and built a dome!  They did an amazing job! Since it was around 120 degrees every day, and it was during Ramadan, they built all night long! Two of the troops had the priviledge of attending the Calearth ( class in September and have some ideas on how to make the domes work in Djibouti.

Volunteers and CA work on Djibouti Dome
Last but not least, HS4S has a new person on board helping us!  The former CEO of S.T. Dupont in Paris has taken up the challenge of sharing real knowledge with the Sudan and partnering with us and our Sudanese Partners!
We are praying that the referendum passes peacefully and that with some solid donations we can take our nascent workers trained in the Sudan and start re-building on a larger scale.  As our Calearth architect said... 'it would be nice to build something other than a prototype for a change'!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

December 2009 – First Khartoum, then DARFUR – finally!!!

 (Housing for little darlings like these - the future! - picture of Darfur children taken by Hooman )
     YES, the phoenix factor was in full force by the end of 2009.  Though we arrived back in Khartoum to find that our dome was still standing in the International Friendship Park... we had to admit that it looked rather sad. Nevertheless, we all agreed that Allah had preserved the dome.  Kate had made a great start with the
dome in July 2007.  Ted and Steve brought it well past the halfway point in December 2007.  Hooman finished it with the collective help of an organization that had helped us in 2007 (Newtech), some of Kates students from 2007 (University of Khartoum and another Technical School), and some private (Aspalta Group Company and Eng. Fakhr) and public contractors (Africa City of Technology - ACT - who provided labor and some material) who are interested in using the methods in the South of the Sudan and in Darfur.  Maha (Holm International School) and her mom donated enough active lime and cement to finish the dome!
     Homes for Sudan wishes to thank Dr. Murtada Mustafa for providing a place to stay for the team in Khartoum and for providing a place for the academics as well as a stimulating intellectual atmosphere.
      Fakhr Aldin brought his 'guy' to fix the cement mixer that had been standing for two years in the mud and the rain.  Frankly, we don't know why it was still there, nor from where it came - so we attributed this to God also and were extremely thankful-
both for the mixer, and for those sent to help us finish
the dome!  It was great to work with Hooman who has a deeply spiritual side - so we could agree that some things can only be explained as 'God's help'!
     The University of Khartoum, Sweden House and one of the Technical Colleges asked us to lecture - so we gained some new allies and disseminated knowledge to those who are now capable of tending to the 'quality control' aspect of the buildings. 
As is evident from our 'first attempt' at a very large dome (18 ft in diameter and about 21 ft high) - many hands made for an odd looking structure.  It is a testimony to the strength of the material that it worked anyway.  Our later dome in Darfur is much prettier.  This one will be much more beautiful after it is plastered and the doors and windows evened out.   The lime and 'cotton soil' mix for the first 3/4 of the dome actually worked.  The material was a bit unwieldy and sticky - making it difficult to fill the sandbags - but nevertheless, if that is the only material available - it can be used!  Our initial batches of lime were not very active, so we used 15%...  After we found truly active lime, we reduced it to 5% and mixed the cotton soil with rough and smooth sand.  These materials are readily available and also quite cheap. 
     We worked about 10 days on the Khartoum dome - [well, Hooman did, - and I was off doing things like renewing our license, asking for permits to Darfur and other such support matters] and we took off for Darfur. We left the finishing touches for Khartoum in the capable hands of Mohamed,  'Aderope', the newly trained laborers, and several of Hooman's student fans.  We were stoked to see it finished when we got back! 
   [At the Technical College in Darfur:  Hooman (in hat) pictured here with some of the IDPs (one was an engineer), Professor Safi, and an engineer from the South who helped tremendously with the translation.... ] [The traditional houses built with wood and straw are pictured below.  John Mendlein, one of our board members who accompanied us on the visit to Darfur in June, took this picture near the site where we would like to build our clinic in 2010]
Thanks to Hashim (our long time partner who is now head of AFAG organization for Peace and Development) and the Technical College in Nyala, our workshop was already set up for us when we got to Darfur.  Dr. Mohamed - from the FAO had introduced this idea to teach the students and the IDPs a couple of years ago and we had set up the verbal agreement in September.  The Dean of the College and one of the professors - Safi - organized a class with 25 engineering students, several IDPs from Kalma Camp, and several local small contractors.  El Safi made sure that the materials were purchased and in place, and that we got the best possible prices in Darfur.  Not easy since at best, the prices in Darfur are DOUBLE everything in Khartoum.  Nevertheless, the materials for the small dome were less than $2000.  This is much less than it would cost to build a concrete and steel structure, and much more stable than the traditional houses being rebuilt with the straw (one cannot but think of that famous fairy tale when looking at the straw houses - beautiful, but fragile). Besides, there isn't much wood in Darfur.... Imagine if a million IDPs came out of the camps all at once and cut down trees to rebuild their burned houses...  Darfur would look like the moon.  In anycase, we could see the wheels turning in the minds of the IDPs and the engineers...  THIS type of building IS POSSIBLE in Darfur. 

 [The Darfur Esprits de Corps between the students, IDPs and contractors was pretty amazing and went beyond all of our expectations.  Hooman was great for for rallying the troops and working on his Arabic!]
Material wise - we bought about 2 1/2 metric tons of cement in Nyala for around $1000.  We found barbed wire manufactured by the Chinese for reasonable prices and Hooman brought 400 meters of sandbag from Calearth on the airplane from California all the way to Darfur. We bought polypropylene flour sacks at the market for $0.50 each and soap sacks (used for part of the roof) for around $0.20 each. We are certain that they can be found cheaper than this and some of the merchants are planning to manufacture the bags - uncut - in the old fabric mills in Nyala.  This would be really great.  Hooman taught the students and IDPs how to do simple soil testing to see if lime might work better than the cement.  Lime is locally mined in Darfur and available.  The possibilities for cheaper, locally available material is extremely empowering for them along with their newly acquired skills at earthbuilding!   By the seventh day, the crew was plastering the outside with the initial waterproofing layers and we left it to them to find the best way to finish the exteriors.  As Hooman noted... there are many beautiful old dome shaped buildings in the Sudan.  Clearly the people have the traditional skills at building domes with bricks. We can together  introduce this newer method of building with cheaper, more environmentally friendly material. 
I cannot help but make the point that the interior of these buildings is a peaceful and healing place!  This is my passion to create safe and comforting environments to speed the healing of those traumatized by war. 
     Having seen and stayed in the local round straw houses, the sand bag material certainly lends a more stable structure while providing light and space.  The finished product on the campus of the Technical College is only the first.  We are certain to build a clinic this year with help from all our supporters and will be more than pleased to build something that is in use and not a 'training dome' or 'prototype.'  Not that it wasn't extremely satisfying to know that at least 70 more engineers and laborers now know how to build this type of house... Not only individuals, but contracting firms...  capable of legally mobilizing local funds (something we are limited in doing by reason of our OFAC) to build many more in Darfur, the North, the East and the South! 
      Hey  - I have to mention that Alexis Ohanian - one of the founders of - is one of our secret supporters.  He has connected us to his blog []. Clearly there is so much more that I could mention in the way of donors, supporters, and literally hundreds of more pictures .  What we know is that we will be back and we will build more.  We also know that our great partners at SIFE and the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma will help us with some of the business and trauma counseling elements of community development - post conflict.  Also, we have no doubt that sharing knowledge will support the Sudanese population to recover, rebuild and be even better.
Many thanks to all of you.
The Darfur Hedgehog that we found: