A lot has happened at AVN since my last Update – it’s difficult to know where to start....
For sure, the international recognition for our work is growing by leaps and bounds:
(1) We were one of eleven “...outstanding finalists” for this year’s World Habitat Awards.
(2) The bid which we submitted to the World Bank’s Development Marketplace Competition on ‘Adaptation to Climate Change ‘ (DM2009) was one of the 26 projects which received funding at the Marketplace event in Washington DC this November (note that there were over 1700 submissions to this competition, and AVN’s was one of the 100 short-listed and invited to Washington); the prize funds will be used to match a similar grant from the French Ensemble Foundation, to trial our new strategy for scaling up the apprenticeship and construction Program (DPPV: Deployment of the Program from a Pilot Village).
(3) AVN’s structure is being reinforced with the addition of a new offshoot: AVN-Belgium, which is now formally established there as a ‘not for profit’ NGO.
(4) AVN-Belgium’s first program, in collaboration with our team in Burkina Faso and with Abantu-Zambia, is scheduled over three years, and involves training of apprentices from Zambia in the VN technique in Burkina Faso, and the deployment of a team of VN masons from Burkina Faso to Zambia for 5 months each year, during the Zambian dry season (which, fortuitously, coincides with the rainy season in Burkina Faso); during the first three years of this program, it is planned to build about 70 houses in the construction zone of 6 villages, and to train 16 VN masons and 32 apprentices.
The other bit of good news is that we have been formally recognised by Global Giving as being a ‘green’ program. Soon, we hope to be able to provide accurate data on the carbon savings associated with the VN technique (as opposed to the alternatives of traditional Sahelian timber-based roofing, and ‘modern’ methods using concrete blocks, sawn timber joists, and sheet metal roofing). The assessment of the relative carbon footprint of VN housing is being carried out by for us pro bono by by staff in the London office of Environmental Resources Management (ERM), leading global experts in the field of environmental impact assessment.
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.
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.
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.
2008 marks the tenth anniversary of our first attempt to construct a prototype VN building in Burkina Faso. Ten years on, the AVN 'Earth roofs in the Sahel' Program continues to go from strength to strength.
A third Congress of VN masons was held in Boromo, Burkina Faso last month (June); this three-day meeting was a chance to share experiences amongst the community of VN builders, to summarise progress made since the start of the Program, and to update our cumulative results. In brief, to date:
- 110 VN masons have been trained, most of whom are setting themselves up as independent entrepreneurs,
- 170 apprentices are undergoing training,
- 3000 man-months of salaries have been generated,
- we estimate around 4,500 direct beneficiaries of the Program,
- 550 vaults have been built, representing a 70% year on year increase in the number of constructions
- the expansion of the Program to neighbouring countries (Mali, Togo, Senegal, Guinea, and Ivory Coast) continues.
The Program is also making its own small, but locally significant, contribution to reduction of carbon emissions: we
estimate that use of earth bricks and earth mortar (instead of cement, and metal roofing sheets) has economised the equivalent of 72 tons of carbon dioxide emissions in the last ten years.
Our first major school-building project in Mali (region of Kati), in collaboration with the architect Emilio Caravatti and the NGO Africabougou, has now been completed, and you can see three photos of this beautiful building below. This will likely become a model for a major VN school-building program.
Your contributions can help scale up this exciting program through acceleration of our apprentice training schemes, the underwriting of new partnerships with NGO's working in the Sahel, and the opening up of new action zones in the six
countries where we now operate. Our pledge is that, in the next two decades, a flourishing self-sustaining market in
sustainable, ecologically sound, healthy, earth vaulted homes will have developed with your help. And that, as a result, fewer poor families in the Sahel will have to resort to the expense and discomfort of living in unhealthy tin-roofed shacks.
Please visit our website to find out more, to sign up to our Newsletter, and to see the latest photos and slide-shows of the houses, schools, churches, and health centers that your contributions can help to build.
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