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.