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 REDDIT.com - is one of our secret supporters.  He has connected us to his blog [http://breadpig.posterous.com]. 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.
Marie
The Darfur Hedgehog that we found:

http://www.homesforsudan.org/

3 comments:

jane said...

Exciting stuff! Good luck on spreading the project.

Tangela said...

This is so awesome. The project has progressed so much. I am proud to call you my friend and neighbor.

Tangie

Tangela said...

This is so awesome. The project has progressed so much. I am proud to call you my friend and neighbor.

Tangie