traditional celebration

When a traditional Cameroonian fon (king) has passed a new one must be “caught”. This was the case in Nkwen, one of the communities in the urban area of Bamenda. Ritual celebrations go on for days culminating in the catching ceremony at which dignitaries, traditional dance groups from many villages and the local residents gather at the palace grounds to greet the new fon. catching the fon at Nkwen

This happens with tremendous noise: guns are being fired, drumming and singing and a master of ceremonies on loudspeakers. People wear their colorful traditional clothing and anyone of stature in the community is there. We were happy to meet Mayor Langsi of Bafut, with whom Better World Cameroon works in close relationship. Bafut Mayor Langsi at celebration

Only a few days later, the Mayor Langsi was installed into office at Bafut council- following a successful re-election earlier this fall.

But it’s not just major celebrations that make volunteering rewarding and fun. While work isn’t always exciting or glamorous, we do make sure that we spend time together and acknowledge our achievements. When Italian volunteer Isabella Bonetti was about to return home we organized a farewell party in connection with our own housewarming. It’s not easy saying good-bye after three months of collaboration- but we’re grateful for a new friend.

The launch of the new website for Better World that is one of my projects here was highly anticipated by all of us here and our partners in the world. We’re happy it’s there and we continue to add more information and events as they come up. Check out next years International Summer Workcamp for young activists and change makers from Cameroon and abroad.

Joshua Konkankoh and the team in planning meeting

As the year draws to an end, plans are now made for the 2014 calendar: Permaculture classes, Natural building projects and a new office location in Bafut will keep us busy in the coming months. Sonita Mbah from our team is now a National Volunteer under VSO (Volunteer services overseas). In Cameroon VSO has been a strong partner to organisations supporting them with capacity building and placement of national and international volunteers. Sadly, CUSO has withdrawn their funding to VSO Cameroon which means that as of March 2014 there will be no more VSO Cameroon.

Volunteer Action

In my role as independent international volunteer and line manager for Sonita’s VSO program, I was invited to be on a panel on local radio”Afrique Nouvelle” . The program was part of the celebration of international volunteer day on Dec. 5. Also on the panel were from Better World, Silvestre Ngwasuh from VSO and Pascaline from COMINSUD.

interview on afrique nouvelle

Christmas is coming into our awareness as every morning some neighborhood loudspeaker is blaring Boney M’s Christmas album. The region here is very much christian so I expect that the holidays will become more and more evident.

Should you be interested in directly  supporting my work with Better World  Cameroon I’d be grateful for your donation through paypal (see link at top right).

Happy holidays to all – Peace and Prosperity in Sustainability

 

green roof Permaculture

green roof Permaculture

Much attention in Permaculture is directed to growing things and planning sustainable land-use. I invite you to think for a moment about Zone 0: the home. How can we apply Permaculture thinking here?

My passion for a long time has been with the design and building of houses and work-spaces that are friendly to the occupants as well as the environment. I call it “Building as if people mattered”.

sketch for a family home

What do I mean by that?

Here are 7 main qualities I hope to achieve with my designs:

  1. Connected to surroundings = fits into a Permaculture design of the land which includes looking at weather patterns, neighbors (human and animal) and other activities on the land. I look for the best possible relationship between all these factors, which results in ease of use and natural benefits like cooling or warming.
  2. Well fitting = enough room for the purpose or the activities that will happen inside. I think about getting the most use out of least amount of space while making it easy to operate inside. Designing with “what will you do in this space”.
  3. Planned for expansion = I encourage my clients to start by building something affordable, and in the planning include possibilities for future expansion. For example: build openings into walls that may become doors, think ahead when designing a roofline.
  4. Healthy for people and planet = I choose non-toxic materials, locally harvested or produced as one part of this. Another aspect is plenty of natural light, fresh air and beauty for the soul. Systems should consist of complete cycles, where whatever comes in will be treated in such a way that it will return to Mother Earth without causing harm after we’re done using it. This applies especially to water, but also to construction materials.
  5. Maintenance friendly = Let’s build it so that repair is easy: good access to shut-off points for water, gas and electricity. Invest in durable infrastructure (good pipes, wiring). I also teach people how to do basic maintenance and repair, on earthen walls and plasters for example.
  6. Materials put to their highest use = consider strength and structural needs when choosing what to build with. Cement and concrete are high strength and often overused in applications. I look for smart ways of reducing these high impact materials like vaults and using materials like stone and earth.
  7. Beauty = put love into the building by adding personal touches. I involve people in the process of building and invite their creativity. The energy we put in will radiate out.
personal touch interior

Touched by human hands: this interior is custom fit in all aspects.

Developing a sustainable lifestyle is easy when houses are planned to support us. Becoming part of natural patterns, paying attention to inputs and outputs can be facilitated by design.

In the end our experience is enriched and we feel more connected to Nature.

attached greenhouse with lots of daylight

Sunrooms feel like being outside and give extra living space in shoulder seasons

cobbing in the rain

rain

Every workshop leader’s nightmare among earth- and strawbale builders: Rain on day 1 of the workshop- especially for a weekend workshop. There you are, ready with tools, tarps and Straw hat and a handful of curious and excited  future cobbers and the sky opens up…

Here are some ideas to keep up the spirit in your group:

  1. Go outside and meet at the building site: its important not to get stuck in “under cover” or “inside” mode
  2. Use positive language: gratitude (rain is good for growing…) and avoid talking about the weather .
  3. Mix mud, even if you can’t build it: people want to learn the feel of the mix.

    rainy day at the workshop

    even in the rain we mix cob

  4. Have a fire where people can warm up and even dry a bit: the fire always becomes a community spot and allows people to connect
  5. At break time serve hot drinks, perhaps some cookies: we like our treats and warm cups =warm hands

    warming up with coffee

    warming up with coffee

  6. If you have to retreat to shelter use this time to teach about building with earth and natural design: keep it lively with sketching on whiteboard or paper, allow plenty of questions and discussion

    escaping indoor and learning another way

    escaping indoor and learning another way

  7. Build models under a roof: models allow creative ideas to develop and people work with mud
  8. If rain persists, build a temporary roof to work under: now this is something to consider having in place to begin with. A roof not only protects from rain but also provides shade when it gets hot

    make a roof over the site

    make a roof over the site

  9. Finally: Good food, it feeds the body and lifts the spirits.

Thank you to Doris Leitner and Carina Leithold for the use of their images.

 

 

 

Natural building is a global movement and many of us travel to work sites and teaching/ learning places far from home. We enjoy the mixing of culture and the many backgrounds that are shared.

For 6 months or so I have been posting weekly images on the German facebook page of naturalhomes.org. There are plans to expand this into a full German website of the n: brand, so translating articles is part of what I do.

If you’ve ever used Google translate or bing or other online translating-robots, you’ll know the limitations- they can only ever be the first step, maybe a jump, but not secure and good communication.

When language becomes specific to building or talking permaculture, your small travel dictionary can’t deliver either so today I’d like to share two useful tools, one online and one in your hand glossary.

1.  http://www.earthbuilding.info/06-3_fachwortliste/06-3_glossar_gb.htm is an online glossary of terms around building that is published by the German head organization for Earth building, Dachverband Lehm. It covers English, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish and French.

2. A number of years ago at a Natural Building Colloquium I purchased a pocket size “Field Glossary for Sustainable development and Ecological Agriculture” published by understory.org for English and Spanish language.

If you have suggestions for other sites or travel-size books let me know- I’d love to find a Kiswahili version to continue working in East Africa.

There is a group of engaged researchers, builders and restorers in Crimmitschau, Sachsen, Germany who are planning the project “German Czech Lehmstrasse” . Lehm means claysoil – good for building- and Lehmstrasse refers to a selection of houses built with Lehm along a (for now) virtual route.

In preparation for this project (while waiting for funding) the group has conducted a few excursions for the education of members and to build connection with each other.

Here are some notes from the most recent drive on which we visited a number of places inside and on the edge of the future Lehmstrasse region.

The focus for this excursion was largely on the history of local farmsteads and their structures. Our volunteer- expert tour guide, Andreas Klöppel, shared plenty of facts and information in a very accessible way. His knowledge of the area’s sites was extensive, including anecdotes around village life.

A typical farm here was built around a courtyard and was composed of 2-4 buildings: a residence, a stable and a barn. Materials were typically stone for basements and sometimes ground-level, then oak timber frame (Fachwerk) for the upper story and roof. The frame- infill was historically done with straw-clay. Roofs are often slate (black) or clay-tile (red). Inside are large beams supporting wide, sometimes decorated, ceiling boards. What you can’t see is the clay layer above these boards on top of which the next floor is laid.

The buildings we visited date as far back as the 15th century. Old stone inscriptions give the year of construction and sometimes name of the builder. Elsewhere, inscriptions are carved into the timber above the door.

With the abundance of old buildings in the villages, I wonder, how can people use them today? One of the big problems these villages face is the fact that farming has changed and young people are moving to the cities. We see many empty houses and lifeless farmsteads. What are new and feasible strategies to inhabit these large ensembles? To me the large groupings of buildings call for communal living schemes: co-housing, ecovillage, multi generational living.

During our tour we saw the example of the Kunst und Kräuterhof Posterstein , where pottery , basket-weaving and herbal medicine courses take place. Group facilities have been built into the former barn, the main floor of the house holds a storefront for arts and crafts, and guests are invited to meander through the herb garden.

As a builder I see the challenge to carefully restore the old frames, finding graceful ways to fit modern needs for more light (larger windows), better insulation, and open rooms into the existing footprints of buildings. Below you will see some examples including the beautiful mass heater by Eckhard Beuchel  with its warm bench and backrest.

I hope that as the Lehmstrasse project continues to evolve, people will be inspired by examples of modern life in old settings, and that there will be life again in those old courtyards that stand waiting.