The Haileybury Youth Trust (HYT) is helping to pioneer a new technology which will revolutionise the building of schools and houses in Africa and have a significant impact on climate change.
The HYT, a charity established in the 19th century to enable Old Haileyburians to help disadvantaged young people, has embarked on a project in Uganda, promoting a construction technology called an interlocking stabilised soil block (ISSB) that has the potential to change the way houses and schools are built across the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, while preserving the region’s fragile environment.
Dr Moses Musaazi, an engineer at Makerere University in Kampala, has developed a technique which, by mixing soil and cement and then compressing the dampened mixture in a mould, produces an interlocking block (twice the size of a normal brick) that is stronger and more uniformly shaped than a conventional brick.
Dr Musaazi says: "Cutting down trees for firing bricks is second to charcoal burning in destroying Uganda’s forest cover. The adoption of this technology will dramatically reduce this environmental damage."
Russell Matcham, HYT co-ordinator at Haileybury, adds: "Since these bricks are compressed rather than fired, firewood is not required and the environment and its biodiversity are preserved.
"Currently, Ugandans use a traditional construction technique which produces hand-moulded, clay-burnt bricks. These need an enormous amount of firewood to fire the bricks in kilns. Up to a ton of wood is needed to fire 1 000 bricks and, as a result, the country is being devastated by deforestation and faces certain environmental catastrophe if clay-burnt bricks continue to be used for building schools and houses."
Apart from deforestation, there are other problems with this way of building: the bricks are easily damaged or broken in transport; they are irregularly shaped and need large amounts of mortar in construction.
In addition, the production of these bricks is much more cost-effective and efficient than traditional bricks. Two trained men can produce 500 blocks a day, on site. Another advantage of the technology is that, while rectangular blocks are used for housing, there is a machine press that makes curved (also interlocking) blocks that are used for constructing water tanks and pit latrines. Since only 30% of Ugandans have access to clean water, the ability to harvest rain-water from a roof and store it in 10,000 litre water tanks is especially beneficial, Mr Matcham explains.
The HYT has already used this technology to construct two staff houses and a double classroom block in a rural Ugandan school at a third of the cost and much more sustainable than traditional buildings which use burnt bricks.
Earlier this year Haileybury sent its first pair of GAP year volunteers, Ben Daniels and Charlotte Gillis, to Uganda. The two have been trained in the use of the construction technique and have helped build the classroom at Lords Meade Vocational College. They are now engaged in promoting the technology in schools and in the community around the town of Jinja, on the shores of Lake Victoria.
Godfrey Kiganga, Headmaster of Lords Meade Vocational College, says that, thanks to the building work, the school can now house its deputy head teachers on campus, and no longer have to have two lessons sharing a classroom.
"We have also learned about ISSB, thus helping to save the Ugandan rainforests and our environment, while benefiting from much decreased prices.
"Both Ben and Charlotte jumped in feet first at the beginning of their placement, eager to learn a lot about ISSB so they could pass it on. I’m sure it was very daunting, coming to Africa for six months, having never seen the technology they will be promoting in Uganda, but they both settled in very well, learned a great deal, and become experts in the technology.
"They have learned that, in Uganda, we do care about the environment and that it is up to the communities, schools and training institutes to help save it, not just governments," he adds.
The technology has been endorsed by Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for International Development, who says: "I very much endorse the benefits associated with [this] technology. The fact that the blocks do not need firing saves on fuels and greenhouse gasses and the technology lends itself to employment creation."
In the short term, the HYT anticipates constructing more staff houses and classroom blocks in Ugandan schools, together with promoting a range of alternative technologies. In addition, a Ugandan student will be sponsored annually through the Engineering Faculty of Makerere University and a course in Alternative Technology is being devised that will be introduced into schools in the near future.
The HYT will continue to send GAP year students to work alongside Ugandan school leavers on projects and in promoting alternative technology in schools’ curricula.