Toronto-based independent film maker Brian Bragason visited AVN in Burkina Faso and in France earlier this year. He is making a documentary celebrating the work of Laurie Baker, Hassan Fathy, and La Voute Nubienne, all visionaries in building affordable and environmentally sustainable architecture for the poor in the developing world. This is what he has to say about his experiences with AVN ..
“…On a recent trip to Burkina Faso I had the good fortune to visit the village of Boromo. To the uninformed observer, Boromo, located halfway between Ouagadougou and Bobo Dialasso, is a road stop. The passing traveler who stops here is bombarded by women selling refreshments that range from the most welcome (water/pop) to the comically inappropriate (bags of onions). Most travelers stop briefly for a refreshment, or a bag of onions, and move on. And yet if they do so they will miss experiencing one of the most exciting developments in social/self-help housing in the world today. For Boromo is the Burkina Faso headquarters of La Voute Nubienne, a non-profit agency dedicated to the transformation of housing in Africa.
Over the course of the last few years I’ve traveled the world researching environmentally friendly building for the poor as part of a documentary project. There are over 2 billion people in the world today living on less than $2 a day and providing decent housing for them is a real challenge. This challenge has vexed some of the best intentioned experts on earth. I shall not name them for fear of incriminating the guilty. The beauty of an organization like La Voute Nubienne is it does not put it’s faith in experts. It does not rely on governments. The dedicated crew running AVN does not believe in top-down solutions. They believe in people. They believe by giving people the expertise to build vaulted roofs and homes using easily found onsite materials you improve lives. And frankly after looking at the results I say they’re right.
In the last ten years AVN has been responsible for building hundreds of homes for mostly low income families in West Africa. Their innovation lies not just in the construction of vaulted roofs but in their approach. AVN is not interested in charity, they are not interested in giving away homes. Their interest lies in empowering people to change the course of their lives, whether it be through training masons in vault building techniques, or communal building, or facilitating the building of inexpensive, environmentally friendly housing.
AVN was born of the friendship of two men, both villagers, and both masons, Thomas Granier from Ganges, France and Seri Youlou from Boromo. Their experience in building comes from building with their own hands. And through their experience, they’ve simplified and standardized building techniques to teach a kind of engineering with the hands. Virtually anyone that goes through AVN’s training program can build a house. Thomas and Seri are aided by a capable crew of European and West African associates all of whom work for an African wage, or on a volunteer basis. And perhaps this is the most valuable lesson of AVN, not just that is has provided homes for thousands of poor people, but that a few good people from different cultures with a good idea and a great deal of drive can make a world of difference.
We’ve see the financial decisions coming out of New York, Brussels, Paris, London, Tokyo in recent years make a real mess. Perhaps we should instead rely on the wisdom coming from Ganges and Boromo for a pleasant change.”
We send Brian our best wishes for the final editing and succesful distribution of his film.
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