Fundraiser for Kenya Building Project

I'm off to Kenya in February for a five-week building project. Katy will join me for the last two weeks while our other VersaTerra instructor Jonathan will be there for the first few. We'll work with a crew of six locals as well as numerous volunteers over the five weeks to build a small cabin that will serve as both a demonstration of cob as well as part of a future larger, complete home for Beatrice.

We'll go from the ground up to the roof on a rounded, rectangular-ish structure (design is not finalized yet) that will incorporate other elements of sustainable design and appropriate tech . Week four will feature a Kenyans-only workshop to share our techniques with the broader community. 

Beatrice contacted us last year about doing an earthen building project in Kenya about two hours west of Nairobi. Over several months of communicating through email and What's App calls, we decided to work with her on building the small cob cottage. There is a tradition of earthen building in Kenya and in this Maasai area, mainly wattle and daub, so we hope to learn from them as we share what we do with thicker walls, inset windows and doors, securely attached roofs and beautiful sculpture work and plasters. 

We're hoping to raise $5,000 for the project to cover costs including materials, tools, some travel, and a contribution to food costs while we're there.

Checks can be made out to "Two Hands Collective" (our nonprofit's federal name) and sent to 2055 McCloud Avenue, Reno, NV 89512. You can also donate here through PayPal. We are grateful for your support in making this project a success.

PHOTOS: top: Beatrice with teen moms, middle: a typical manyatta (note lack of windows), bottom: another manyatta showing wattle and daub with cracked plaster

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In Her Words:

I am a teacher and head the Children’s Ministry at the River of God Church in Parklands, Nairobi. I also sit on the board of a rescue center for teenage mothers in Nanyuki called Imara International. We help and house them so they can complete their education and also train them in skills to help them be able to take care of themselves and their children.

 

I have a passion for women and children, especially those who reside in Ilkiloret, Kajiado West County. The people of this community are full of life, resilient and have a strong beautiful culture. I have spent time with the people of this community and built friendships as well as engaged in community outreach activities in the area. In March of this year (2022), we brought out 20 girls from Ilkiloret to Nairobi (most of whom had never been further than an hour from home) for a week and placed them with different families as they attended a Kids Holiday Club. In July of this year we brought almost 50 children from Nairobi to Ilkiloret for what we called “Christmas in July” and were able to distribute school supplies, hygiene supplies and toys to the primary school children in the area through Ilkiloret Primary School.

 

As I have spent time in Il-kiloret, I have had opportunity to interact with my neighbors, their lives, culture, strengths and challenges. From our discussions and my observations, a big aspect of their lives can improve through simple solutions such as building better houses using earth. The earthen house is well suited for the Ilkiloret area since it can get very hot during the day and also very cold and windy at night. The temperature controlled nature of well-built cob houses would be perfect for the area.

ABOUT THE MANYATTA

Majority of the Ilkiloret community members live in manyattas – wattle and daub earth houses that are very low in height and dark inside. Due to their pastoralist background, the Maasai built temporary houses that were not well made. They are no longer pastoralists but the houses have remained the same. The walls are porous and poorly plastered with tiny holes for windows. Cooking is done in the house and therefore smoke is an issue causing health problems. Children in Ilkiloret can’t really study at home unless they do it outside because of how dark the houses are and it shows in their poor performance in the national exams. 

 

In Ilkiloret, to advance is to move from a manyatta to a sheet-metal house (which still doesn’t have windows) and that gets extremely hot during the day and cold at night.

 

A SUSTAINABLE SOLUTION

The manyatta concept, if done well, is a beautiful and healthy option for dignified housing. Cob houses make the dream of owning a good house attainable to many people – not just the Maasai. The availability of materials (sourced locally – most at no cost at all) makes cob building a very attractive option to owning a home.

   

Training in sustainable green building is needed for both Ilkiloret locals and other Kenyans all over the country for whom owning a home has been an impossible dream. This is why I am interested in hosting an earthen building project. I’ve been campaigning for cob buildings since I discovered them online. Right now nobody quite believes me when I say that cob houses are strong and durable. All of us grew up in mud huts and that’s the picture everyone has in their mind. I want to show people that it is possible to live in a beautiful earth house. It’s good for us and for the environment. 

 

In Maasai culture, the women are the ones who build the houses and therefore the ones I’d primarily want to see trained. They build for themselves and also for others to earn an income.

 

Some of the benefits of the Project:

1. A well-built cob house is beautiful, healthy and gives dignity to ones living space

2. Good design concepts make the living space useable

  •   windows letting in light so the children to study indoors

  •   windows and chimneys making ventilation possible

  •   making the home a space for family and not just a space to sleep in

3. A strong building minimizes repair time. Time that can go into other activities

4. Building skill gives opportunities for better earnings when building for others
5. Good roofing that can be used for rainwater harvesting can go a long way to ease the burden on the women who spend almost half the year fetching water. They go a long distance every other day to fetch water.
6. Better earnings can give access to simple solar lighting solutions that will further help their children’s education
7. Empowering the young men. Although houses are normally built by the women, we want to include the young men in the training in order to teach some basic carpentry skills when fitting in the doors, windows and the roof. The skills learned can be used to curb crime and earn an honest living.

 

Other workshops that we hope to offer in future:
1. Building an Earth Oven
An earth oven has the ability to cook many things at the same as it maintains heat for hours using very little wood (energy) and saves on time

2. Building a smoke-free rocket stove

Rocket stoves can be built indoors in the kitchen because they have chimneys that take the smoke out of the house. They also use very little firewood compared with an open fire.

3. Making beauty products (soap, lotion) using goat milk

Milk and Ugali (Corn mash) is the main dish in Il-kiloret because they have access to an abundance of milk with nowhere to sell it because everyone has goats and no one has access to refrigeration. A workshop in using the goat milk for other uses will lead to an added source of income.

4. Introduction to kitchen gardens, dehydrating foods and permaculture techniques
With rain water harvesting and learning to recycle water, they will be able to improve their families’ diets with an availability of fresh vegetables. Surplus harvest can be dried for future use.

5. Children’s Model Earth Building Workshop

Introduce the children to different types of earth building styles in miniature: cob, earth blocks, rammed earth and earth-bag model construction. Fun but educational at the same time.

6. Compost Toilet Demonstration

Pit latrines are found in churches and schools. Most of the homes just make do with the bushes. Compost Toilets require very little in equipment, don’t smell and are safe to use without the cost of digging a pit latrine. They conserve water and once the compost has cured and all pathogens are dead, it can be used as fertilizer around the homestead.

THE GOAL

Good, healthy, dignified housing for the Ilkiloret community and new, better income streams.

Future Community Project

With the knowledge gained from the Cob building workshop, we hope to put up a cob building to house a library at Ilkiloret Primary School for books we are currently collecting.