Saturday, March 31, 2007

Winter in Khartoum and Darfur

(School Design by Mishou Sanchez - Southern California Institute of Architecture:

The December through February trip to the Sudan was a long one. The trip was extremely fruitful and we made some good friends and forged relationships with others in the Sudan who are interested in peace and development. Kate (our volunteer architect) had her first Sudan experience and is a crucial addition to our team. She gave us professional credibility and made professional relationships with other architects interested in bringing the earth building technology to help the poor of the Sudan.

The Sudanese architects and engineers helped us with the logistics of building a prototype in Khartoum to create a venue for fundraising, and the Sudanese Austrian Friendship Society donated some land in Khartoum for the building.

We held a seminar in Khartoum with 20 architects and ministers to explain our community rehabilitation concept and introduce the technology. Nader Khalili consented to appear on screen with interactive technology and address the group. It was an honor for all of us!

The CEO of ASP gave a lecture to 100+ architecture students at Khartoum University and managed to gather some volunteers to help build the prototype.

Since we already have pictures of us, here is a picture of some of the darling kids who live in the neighborhood where I was staying near the Nile River.

Much of our time was spent putting our heads together with architects and researchers to figure out the best way to adapt the earth technology for Darfur and the Khartoum area (that also has IDP camps and many poor areas). The NGOs, the government and the private sector have a big job on their hands to rehabilitate the war displaced. The UN, UNEP, UN Habitat, JAM and several of the Sudanese NGOs such as Practical Action have teamed together to coordinate sustainable housing for the IDPs. They asked us (the American Sudanese Partnerships) to be a part of their group so that we can all find the best way to provide housing for the war displaced and preserve what is left of the environment.

A household compound built with the native methods takes around 40+ trees. UNEP did the math for the number of trees it would take to build houses for part of the 2+ million displaced and the results were daunting. ASP's earth technology borrowed from the California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture requires zero trees. We are of course eager to get started with building the school in Darfur and actually passing along the technology to many groups to speed up the rehabilitation in the entire country. (A reminder to look at the ASP and Calearth links to view the technology: and

One of the hurdles to starting the building - besides the obvious, which is the fundraising - was registration and agreement with the government of the Sudan. We presented our ideas to the ministers involved, the security, and the Humanitarian Affairs Commission and completed all of the paper work. We are awaiting their decision.

I am afraid that I did not take as many pictures this time, though I did have a journalist's permit. Here are some pictures from a trip to the whirling dervishes in Omdurman with one of the wonderful people who is helping us with the prototype and logistics. The experience was a very spiritual one and generated a lot of feelings of good will. This priest's face was very beautiful!

Getting to Darfur was as much of a challenge as usual. A great deal of Darfur is considered a conflict zone by the military and in the last few months the activities of the rebels, the government troops and the militias had increased. Nevertheless, the area were ASP intends to build the school is as viable as ever. I met with the Humanitarian Affairs head in South Darfur, one of the ministers, the governor's office, and the security. I got together with the SPCR with whom we are doing part of the building, and the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization in the UN) to coordinate our community plans to incorporate the reservoirs. Our building requires the use of earth as the material - we can select the same area that the FAO wants for the reservoirs to dig our earth. The FAO can then use the super abode to line the reservoirs. A very exciting alliance.

An outdoor cafe 'fry up' of lamb with one of the FAO representatives and a friend working for the WFP (World Food Program).

Some Darfur Boys.

The core of the community rehabilitation concept is to have a foundation of 'services' in the form of schools and hospitals and secure fire proof houses. 'Peace treaties and far away agreements in Khartoum' mean very little to the people living in camps in the periphery. They need to see tangible progress before peace becomes a reality. Some of the houses outside the camps are as bad if not worse than the camps, though as you can see here, the tents are colorful and imaginative.

It is hard to summarize two months in a few paragraphs. The most exciting and useful results of the time spent in the Sudan are the relationships with the people who want to participate in solving the challenges of their own country and building bridges of understanding between our cultures. La Sierra University's SIFE students were very enthusiastic to partner with ASP and to get to know some of the Sudanese students. An engineer from the FAO in Nyala who is also a professor at the local technology college, agreed to help get the students together from both sides of the ocean to work on agriculture and businesses for the villages. The students at La Sierra were so enthusiastic that they started building an entire prototype village on their campus to have the buildings as a setting for some experimental agriculture projects. Southern California's climate (La Sierra University) is not so different from Darfur.

Kate and I made a four day trip to Southern California to help the SIFE team (Students in Free Enterprise) to start their village. The students quickly found that building with earth is a LOT of work. They did not get quite as far as fast as they would have liked considering they were studying for exams and preparing for their SIFE competition presentations. Nevertheless, we got started and got the rest of the campus participating with the promise of 'extra credit' for some of their classes.... Yes, it takes incentives all over the world.

We hope to have more pictures soon, but here is the start of the La Sierra Village.

What is left.. getting started! We have the funds to make another trip to Khartoum to build our prototype.
The students at Calearth/Southern California Institute of Architecture came up with some fantastic designs for schools in Darfur and Kate did some modifications and plans using the vault structures from Calearth. Mishou Sanchez ( has kindly agreed to us posting her school design. We are thinking of this for a hospital.

We are raising funds for these positive solutions to the conflicts in the Sudan.
We are looking for $4 million to build the school, hospital, 1500 houses, and pay everyone to create this important beginning to war rehabilitation. So far we have all volunteered. (Donate online through

1 comment:

Jaffe said...

Fellow Blogspot blogger, Found a cool new tool for our blogs... It helps get latest news for our keywords directly on to our blog.