Association la Voute Nubienne (AVN)

AVN's mission is to improve housing conditions through an appropriate architecture, as soon as possible, for as many people as possible. In sub-Saharan Africa, the struggle to obtain decent housing plunges millions of families into a vicious circle of poverty. AVN offers a solution to this problem, based on three integrated concepts: A Roof + A Skill + A Market AVN organises the training and support of local Nubian Vault (NV) builders and entrepreneurs to promote this solution on a large-scale, with a view to developing a self-sustaining market in NV construction. As a result, families can acquire affordable, sustainable, and decent housing, at the same time improving their economic cond...
Aug 24, 2009

A success story from Mali: the multiplier effect of building a mosque

The completed mosque in Mamarila-Sanogola
The completed mosque in Mamarila-Sanogola

This week sees the start of the holy month of Ramadan, so it seemed appropriate to bring you some news about the work of AVN in Mali, a predominantly Muslim country.

Championed by the local Imam and the religious community, the first VN mosque in Mali was built during the 2008/09 season, by the villagers of Mamarila-Sanogola (Koutiala district) under the supervision of VN masons from Boromo, Burkina Faso. It is composed of three main vaults, each 6m x 3m25, oriented North - South, and two smaller vaults and the minaret at first floor level. An external staircase gives access to the minaret and roof terrace. The workmanship is to a high standard, both for the basic structure (completed in 25 days), and the internal and external renderings and finishes (completed in a further 10 days). Furthermore, this building only cost 200 000 FCA (430$) in cash (mainly for salaries paid to the VN masons from Boromo) because the villagers themselves volunteered much of their time, skills, and labour, for brick-making, digging foundations, building, and rendering.

But the story does not stop here: far from it. When villagers began to realise that VN construction methods - as demonstrated by this mosque - were less costly than any other available alternative, and resulted in comfortable and safe buildings, the news quickly spread, During the 08/09 building season, a second mosque was started, and three houses built, in two neighbouring villages (Dendjola and M’Pébougou) - in the process 10 local apprentices were trained under the supervision of the masons from Boromo. These apprentices, now capable of building VN vaults on their own, already have orders for 13 houses and a third mosque in the original three villages, and - in seven other villages in the district - orders for 5 more houses, another mosque, and a school. Each of these projects will involve training of further local apprentices in the VN technique - a veritable snowball effect (however inappropriate this metaphor may seem for Mali’s torrid climate...).

What is happening in this cluster of 10 villages is a very successful example of AVN's 'pilot zone development program', in which a local champion (in this case the Imam of the first village) asks for an input from AVN - in the form of trained VN masons and construction advice - and persuades key members of the local community to support him. AVN, at this point, draws up an agreement with the local community for a four-year program of apprentice training and construction, and the program then takes off under its own steam. If succssful, the end result will be a significant number of VN buildings - houses and community-use ones such as schools, mosques, dispensaries - as well as a pool of trained VN masons who can then use their newly acquired skills to earn a living for themselves and their families, and provide economically accessible housing for clients in their villages.

Any donations you can provide at this time will be used to help develop and expand this pilot zone program to other rural communities in Mali and Burkina Faso.

Interior of the mosque
Interior of the mosque
Villagers outside the mosque site
Villagers outside the mosque site

Links:

Jul 15, 2009

A Postcard from Build Sustainable Housing for Families in Africa

Sheila Leonard is an intern at GlobalGiving. This summer she traveled throughout West Africa and visited a number of GlobalGiving projects. On May 27th she visited "Build Sustainable Housing for Families in Africa." When asked what she would tell her friends about this project, Sheila said: "Incredible: You need to see this!"

Arriving in Boromo, a village town an hour away from each of the main cities in Burkina, I was bombarded by offers to buy peanuts, tissue paper, and mangos. Pierre, my guide from France, helped translate my apologetic no’s to the millions of young children begging for my twenty cents. As we climbed in the car, flustered, I asked – am I supposed to buy things every time?? Should I have gotten something? – kindly Pierre responded, ahh, you cannot save every person this way.

Not only did it make me feel better, it reminded me of the power of development and projects with the Association la voute Nubienne’s sustainable housing project. Burkina Faso has two seasons - rainy and dry. May is the end of the dry season and the hottest time of the year (I mention this because that’s now, and I am here, and man is it hot!!). Before, families built homes from redwood right before the rainy season came and used the homes for shelter. By the time the next rainy season came, the house had deteriorated and the process had to begin anew. However, redwood has run out in many villages in Burkina Faso. It is now very expensive to access and families need another solution for housing. I appreciated this background because many times development workers bring in a solution WE think will work - but the "target group" has no understanding of its need or use for it – their traditional ways will suffice. Here though, it is clear a more long lasting solution, or any solution since the wood has run out, is needed.

The houses are called "vaults" and the team has a well thought out plan of construction and several designs available to potential home owners. All houses are built for good ventilation (it's hot) and usefulness, one bedroom, one kitchen, one living room, finito. We spent the day touring the local village to see houses they’ve created. Since I spent the last year engulfed in international development classes, I was eager to try and pinpoint an opportunity to see some o the many flaws we discuss in action. I can honestly say, I found none. The association has been working in the region for over ten years and through trial and error, has nearly perfected their work. As far as development goes they are hitting most of the successful ideas. The project is 1. Sustainable, 2. Employs members of the local community, 3. Teaches a skill (masonry), 4. Includes an incentive - people need to pay in to buy a house - and 5. Involves local people as much as possible. Many development projects suffer from poor maintenance - no one likes to fund upkeep! The association, however, focuses on creating easy maintenance and after hearing it mentioned over and over, I get the feeling they care about it a lot and have thought through the many possible solutions.

Pierre and his two workers drove me through the villages to see houses they’ve created. Because I don’t speak French, Pierre had to translate all communication for me…besides of course the Nasara!! (white person) screams from the children.

Although amazed by the in depth progress the Association has made, I wonder about how they reach the poorest Burkinabe, but then I remember - not everyone can do everything at once. I can’t save every child selling me food at the bus stop, nor can (or should) the association build a home for every family. Building well-made, sustainable, long-lasting, community centers is an excellent start to development and one I highly recommend supporting. This is a model project run by an incredibly well-organized that is making a dent in one area of development, the most we can ask of any project.

Apr 6, 2009

Significant progress

AVN Show House at the SIAO (1)
AVN Show House at the SIAO (1)

Since my last update, I can report that AVN has made significant progress; by the end of the current building season, cumulatively, since the start of the 'Earth roofs in the Sahel' Program: - 190 VN masons will have been trained (including 80 this season) - 900 vaults built (350 this season alone) - 4,500 man-months of salaries generated (1,500 this season) - 9,000 people in the Sahel will have benefitted directly from our Program.

We were able to validate these figures during the Fourth Congress of VN masons held in Boromo last December, attended by 80 VN masons from all over Burkina Faso who reported on their work in progress. The two-storey AVN show house at the Autumn 2008 Salon International de l'Artisanat in Ougadougou (SIAO) attracted several thousand visitors, and will undoubtedly result in further demand for the building of VN homes.

This season also sees further expansion of the AVN Program from Burkina Faso to neighbouring countries: - in Mali, over 15 VN masons have now been trained, and they are themselves recruiting and training further Malian apprentices; an AVN-Mali office has been established in Bamako to oversee further development of the Program, and to handle the increasing flow of requests for VN constructions (including ones from the historic and iconic city of Timbuktu!) - in Senegal, AVN has two different types of parnership agreement, one with a Senegalese construction firm in Dakar, the other with a French NGO financing the construction by VN masons of rural training centres in the Matam region. - We plan to extend the AVN Program to Niger next year: the first VN mason from Niger, Ibrahim Dan Inna, is being trained in Boromo. Ibrahim is deaf, and he is sponsored by the NGO EFIS; we hope to provide employment opportunities for others like him in the future.

International recognition is growing: the AVN Program is one of 12 projects shortlisted to go on to Stage II of the selection process for the 2009 World Habitat Awards. Two awards are given annually to projects from the global North as well as the South that provide practical and innovative solutions to current housing needs and problems. An award of £10,000 is presented to each of the two winners at the annual United Nations global celebration of World Habitat Day.

At a time when climate change issues have reached the top of the global agenda, we are very pleased to be included in Global Giving's "green leaf" selection of projects. The AVN Program is making a locally significant, contribution to reduction of carbon emissions: our ongoing research indicates that use of earth bricks and earth mortar (instead of cement, and metal roofing sheets) has economised the equivalent of over 100 tons of carbon dioxide emissions so far.

Your contributions can help scale up this exciting program through acceleration of our apprentice training schemes, the underwriting of new partnerships with NGO's, and the opening up of new action zones in the Sahel and other countries of Africa. In the last few weeks, we have received requests to train local builders in Malawi, Zambia, and South Africa - mainly for building VN orphanages and schools. Your contributions can help us implement these worthwhile projects, as well as to continue development of a real market in the construction of sustainable, ecologically sound, healthy, earth vaulted homes for rural families in the Sahel.

AVN Show House at SIAO (2)
AVN Show House at SIAO (2)
AVN Show House at SIAO (3)
AVN Show House at SIAO (3)

Links:

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