Sustainable Housing for Rural Families in Africa

by Association la Voute Nubienne (AVN)

In September this year, we had a chance to collate the necessary data to provide a review the impacts of the last ten years' work by AVN and its network of masons; the results are very encouraging:

- Since the start of the program, 1309 vaults have been built by Nubian vault (NV) masons and entrepreneurs, for 533 clients, in 244 locations (villages, hamlets, towns) in 3 countries (Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal)
- If all the vaults built were to be placed end-to-end, this would reach a total length of 9.7 km (Note: a standard vault, our unit of measurement, has internal dimensions of 7M long X 3,25 M wide)
- In total, 214 NV masons have been trained, of whom half are at the foreman and/or entrepreneur level; and there are currently 296 apprentices in training
- 10,000 people use, live in, or sleep in NV buildings; of the total built, 85% are for private houses, and 15% are community-use buildings.
- Approximately 18,000 trees, 25,000 tonnes of CO2-equivalent, and approximately 15,000 corrugated iron roofing sheets have been saved as a result of NV construction, as compared to the alternatives
- Approximately 750,000 Euros of local economic impacts have been generated by the program
- Since 2000 the program has experienced an average annual growth rate of 36%.

One of the most encouraging findings is that over one-third of the NV construction market is now completely autonomous and self-sustaining: 37% of NV clients are found directly by NV builders / entrepreneurs. Of the remainder, 40% come via a local intermediary or ’champion’, and only 23% via AVN itself. So, in the regions where AVN is active, we are well on the way to a growing and independent market in NV construction, permitting us - with your help -  to soon move on and target our resources in new regions.

The attached PDF file contains slides and images highlighting the above findings - feel free to download this and use to help explain to your friends and colleagues the impacts of our work.

PS Some other news - at the last meeting of the General Asembly of AVN, held in Septamber, I was elected President of the Association, with David Sillou, our IT specialist and strategy expert, as Vice-President.


Brian Bragason
Brian Bragason

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.


A Nubian vault chicken house, Dendjola village
A Nubian vault chicken house, Dendjola village

The first phase (Sept 2008 - August 2011) of the unrolling of AVN’s Program in Mali Août 2011, has now ended. It is the first regional program of its kind to be implemented outside Burkina Faso, and has included:
- a pilot test of the AVN pump-priming strategy (the Dendjola Pilot Village Deployment Program), helping to define local expectations and potential
- the setting up of AVN-Mali and the recruitment and training of an initial local management team
- the training of the first generation of NV masons in Mali (35 so far)
- the construction of 110 NV buildings (= 325 vaults, totaling 2,500 linear meters)
- the setting up of the first AVN ’franchise’ operation in Mali, with the NGO Terre et humanisme in Tacharane.

The full Annual Report from AVN-Mali (2010-11) is attached to this report. It is in French, but contains many photos.

The photo says it all ...  the children of Siaka Djiré (’champion’ of the Dendjola Program) have built an amazing Nubian Vault chicken-house entirely of their own accord (see photo). They must have spend a lot of time observing the AVN masons at work in the village, and decided to go ahead with a project of their own. What greater proof could there be that the NV technique has been incorporated into the local culture? And maybe these kids will form the next generation of NV masons in a few years’ time?

The second phase of the AVN-Mali Program will start in September 2011, and will involve the opening of new franchises, the development of the regional market in NV housing, and the evaluation of the final two years of the Dendjola Program.

Sophie Somda
Sophie Somda's NV house under construction

The 2010/11 construction season in the Sahel is now drawing to a close, as the rains will be starting next month. The results are very promising, and demonstrate how successfully the program is growing. The 400 or so NV masons and apprentices have built this season, since September 2010, the equivalent of 1800 linear meters of vaults in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Senegal, namely 124 buildings made up in total of 255 vaults, each of an average length of 7 meters and the standard internal width of 3,25 meters:

-  in Burkina Faso: 82 buildings (= 130 vaults)

- in Mali: 37 buildings ( = 102 vaults)

- in Senegal : 5 large buildings (= 23 vaults).

This season has also seen the first NV house built for a  client using micro-credit facilities organised by the NGO Entrepeneurs du monde in collaboration with AVN. This is a small house in the village of Koper, near Dano, Burkina Faso, for Mme Sophie Somda (see photos). We hope that this initiative will encourage other villagers to make use of affordable micro-credit loans to help obtain better housing for their families.

In Europe, the growing reputation of our NGO Association la voute nubienne (AVN) has recently been recognised by the award of the Social Enterprise Trophy (International category) to Thomas Granier, co-founder of AVN. This trophy, organised by the French newspaper La Tribune, with the support of the bank BNP-Paribas, is awarded to the most promising social enterprise organizations in France - AVN was selected by a jury of professionals from 120 other candidates for this award.

Despite this growing international recognition for our work, we still need all the help and support we can get to maintain the momentum of growth in the Program.... there are still millions of families in the Sahel living under terrible housing conditions. We have made a small dent in the problem, but we are still in the early stages of creating a sustainable market in decent, safe, housing for rural families.

AVN masons & Sophie Somda and family
AVN masons & Sophie Somda and family
Sophie Somda and her husband
Sophie Somda and her husband
Signing the micro-credit agreement
Signing the micro-credit agreement


The main entrance to the Centre
The main entrance to the Centre

Until recently, the main thrust of AVN's work has been in Burkina Faso, and over the border in neighbouring regions of southern Mali. But three years ago, we started getting requests from several organisations for sending trained VN master masons from Burkina Faso to work on projects in Senegal.

Of these requests, the most important has been in the region of Matam in north-eastern Senegal: the construction of a technical training centre and annexes (La maison des énergies) in Thiangol, close to the Senegal river, launched in January 2009, with financial sponsorship from the Communauté de Communes Val de Drôme (CCVD), France. AVN has provided a core  team of masons from Burkina Faso, led by VN master mason Camille Sanon, to build the centre and train local apprentices. The main purpose of this centre is to provide training and support for villagers in conservation of the environment of the river basin, renewable energy sources, and local making of tools and other products. The centre includes workshops, meeting rooms, offices, and accommodation units, and the major construction work is now more or less completed (see photos below). Although this project falls outside the main focus of AVN's work, namely to support the construction of houses for villagers, it is serving two very important functions:

- introducing the VN technique to a new region of the Sahel, and demonstrating that the technique is viable and sustainable

- providing a training site for apprentices from local villages and from elsewhere in Senegal, who themselves will spread the technique, recruit apprentices of their own, and kick-start a market for rural housing.

As an example of this last point, in March 2010, in Dakar, Haidar el Ali, President of l’Océanium , and AVN signed a partnership agreement to open a pilot village program in the zone of Kolda, in upper Casamance. Hamidou Diallo, Océanium coordinator in this region, will be project manager for this programme over the next four years. At the moment, a number of apprentice masons from Kolda are undergoing on-site training at the CCVD/AVN project at Thiangol (see photo below). A further 12 apprentices from the the region of Thies, 50 km from Dakar, have also been working on the Thiangol project, and will be returning home soon to start a program in villages close to Thies.

Any support you can provide to help support the new apprentices in Senegal in becoming independent entrepreneurs providing sustainable and safe housing in their villages will be very welcome....

The main building
The main building
The conference hall
The conference hall
Meeting room interior
Meeting room interior
Accommodation units
Accommodation units
External rendering
External rendering
Roof view
Roof view
Apprentices from Kolda training in Thiangol
Apprentices from Kolda training in Thiangol



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Organization Information

Association la Voute Nubienne (AVN)

Location: Ganges, N/A - France
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Tony Kaye
Milton Keynes, n/a United Kingdom
$13,529 raised of $50,000 goal
103 donations
$36,471 to go
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