women proud of their achievement

plaster practiceEvery program comes to an end and a good ending is a celebration of accomplishment and recognition of the participants.

Our Eco-building community courses had their closing celebration on April 11 at Alegnwi Community hall. It was an afternoon of memories of our time spent together working at various projects. There were images of work, some candid portraits and Better World’s short documentary movies.

she's done it

This was an opportunity for community members to see what we would be taking into the world.

Much talking and laughter rose when people recognized themselves and their friends.

People may see themselves in a different light when they understand that participating in these projects reaches far beyond the boundaries of this region.

It’s been a busy three months for them: many community work hours were spent on the water catchment project resulting in fresh water for drinking. Women and Youth came to learn natural building at Ndanifor Permaculture Ecovillage where we now have a small eco-hut almost complete.

Recently community members started working toward the High Value Agriculture Project by tilling and planting the trial plot.

Certificates acknowledge those who put extra time and energy into the regular training days.

“ We have never had a certificate for working with our hands” said Dorothy Nemuluh, the chairlady of Alegnwi and one of the ecovillage builder women.

woman with child plastering

That statement means a lot to me as instructor. If we can value the hands-on skills of people similar to academic achievement we may reach a better balance in our education.

Leaving the village and leaving Cameroon, I take away a sweet feeling of connection to all those I had the privilege to work with and I carry in my heart the songs we shared and the memory of being in the mud together.

women proud of their achievement

 

Watch us work together in the mini documentary Power of community:

 

 

preparing the improved cook stove

Did you know that countless women in Africa cook the family meals on 3-stone fires? I don’t have statistics, but I see the evidence all around us both in the city of Bamenda and when we go to the Village. I have mentioned building improved wood stoves frequently since our arrival here, and many women say “I want one”,  but it took initiative and some funding (VSO thank you) to actually start building.

learning about building

It’s a project!

Wopong Jocelyn Achu asked me to come and teach 15 women in the small community of Pinyin in Santa, to the South of Bamenda. She is working as VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) national volunteer for HEDECS (Health Education Development Consultancy Services).

We set the goal to build one stove with the women in a workshop, perhaps start a second one and then leave supplies for them to build another five stoves by the end of the month of January. We hope that this will trigger further stoves to be done under people’s own initiative.

Some research into the topic in combination with my own experience from previous stove projects produced a handout with mostly visual instructions. I know what it feels like to learn something in a workshop and try to do it alone the next time: a guideline is helpful, and since not all women read or speak English, it had to be visual.

To make things affordable and easy to repeat I looked for simple, local solutions for elements like form work, chimney building, tools and materials.

presenting benefits of improved cook stoves

The workshop

We left Bamenda in the early morning by shared taxi to Santa, from where we carried on by motorcycle to Pinyin.  Mountainous terrain with densely farmed valleys, this is a highly productive region for vegetables that are distributed throughout Cameroon and beyond.

The women gathered in front of Lillian’s house, where we would be building the stove under a good sheltering roof next to the front door.  But not just women wanted to learn, a group of secondary school girls attended as well and many men and youth came by during the course of the day.

The list of materials :

the main material clay is in the yardMud bricks (the women had produced 230 bricks approx. 10x10x20 cm )

Claysoil ( the pit was in the yard)

Two sacks of sawdust

Small quantity of sand (most precious there because it is brought in)

 

Tools to have at hand:

Tropical hoe to dig and mix clay

Cutlass (machete)

Measuring tape (if unavailable use body measurements)

Buckets

 

Steps to designingsize the stove to the pots

  1. Take the largest pot that will be used on the stove and determine its volume
  2. The volume relates to the size of combustion chamber and heat path through the stove (all the same cm2), a simple chart is available to look this up:  download publication
  3. The width of the stove will be determined by the diameter of the pot plus insulation plus bricks
  4. The length of it is the sum of the first pot plus a second, smaller pot, plus chimney plus edges and channels.
  5. Finally the height of the stove as illustrated in the sketch

drawing of improved cook stove

 

much interest in cook stoves

Building the stove:

  1. Prepare a 1:1 (by volume) mix of clay and sawdust  (estimated 4 wheelbarrows of clay) and a clay mortar mix
  2. Layout on the ground: position pots, mark center lines  and edges on the wall
  3. Set edges with bricks and configure firewood feed and combustion chamber (considering 5cm insulation)
  4. Build up edges and combustion chamber.using banana stems as forms
  5. Insulate combustion chamber. We used banana stems as guides which I saw in my research, but decided to pull them up as we built up instead of leaving them to rot in place, as suggested)
  6. Fill voids with compacted earth or bricks
  7. At appropriate height set the first (larger) pot in place and fill around it with insulation mix.using the pot to form the stove top
  8. At the same height the channel to Pot 2 will be built with insulation mix, followed by pot 2 set into place
  9. Continue building up around the pots to desired height.

10. Make a channel to the chimney and set up a form to build the pipe (banana stem works here too)

11. Remove the pots and smooth all edges and surfaces inside, scraping down the surface around the pots to create hot air circulation. Place three clay supports to lift the pot- allowing heat to move under and around the pot.

proud owner of the improved cook stove

Tadah!

With the experience the women had – they already know how to mix mud, make bricks and lay bricks- we accomplished the first stove in about 4 1/2  hours- with much deliberation and figuring out the process.

To my great surprise everyone got up after the meal that followed, and carried bricks to the next house. And then the women went ahead and within 1 ½ hours built another stove with little input on my part!

women build the second stove Built in less than two hours

We will return to Pinyin to do some surface finishing and to see how things are. And we hope to light the fire in the first stove at that time. When all is done and our feedback is in, I will publish a full report and make it available for download.

At time of publishing this post, the women have built three more stoves and are on track for the last 2. I am now working with another group of women on constructing a cabin, an oven and a stove….stay tuned!

Pinyin workshop group

 

 

work and cultural exchange

Get your hands into some good African Earth!

Inviting Natural builders to come and help build our first buildings at Ndanifor Permaculture Ecovillage , Bafut, Cameroon.

Ndanifor Permculture Eco Village is located in the village of Bafut , not far from Bamenda

Ndanifor Permaculture Eco Village is located in the village of Bafut , not far from Bamenda

It’s time to build something this dry season: we have plenty of good building earth, raffia and access to wood.

Come and help create a small cabin as a first place to stay on the beautiful rural site. We have called out to women groups and local youth to participate in community training programs from January until March 2014.

Part of the activities will be the building of a wood-cook-stove and bread oven for the ecovillage learning center.

Work with me to support this community effort and give Better World Cameroon its first real natural building experience. Share what you know and get practice by immersing yourself in a different context. And escape the northern Winter.

You can also find the project on thePOOSH and follow updates there.

Lets’ talk logistics:

  1. You’ll need a Visa to enter Cameroon– this is usually not difficult, but it poses a time factor. So get on it quickly. We will provide a letter of accommodation or invitation as required for the Visa. Check with your closest Cameroon Embassy.
  2. You’ll fly into Yaounde or Douala- both are about 6 hours distance from Bamenda by bus. Buses leave mornings or evenings and cost about $10. It’s easier for us to arrange for someone to meet you in Yaounde- Better World has an office there.
  3. Living in Bamenda is fairly low cost- Better World will help find a suitable place to stay and negotiate a price for you.
  4. Good food is readily available at low cost. We will share some common meals and spend free time exploring the hills in the area. Our plan is to work on construction for 4 days a week starting January 13. You can join any time until March- we hope to be finished by April 1.
  5. Better World has a FAQ page that may be helpful.

Can we complete this building in 12 weeks?

If you have time and a travel budget consider our offer. Get your hands into African Earth!

Please email me to discuss details and if this is not for you, share it with someone!

Twiga store

cob and bottles

Today I saw this call for support and want to help spread the word.

In 2009 I had the great pleasure to go to Hopiland in Arizona and work with Lillian Hill and Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture to start the construction of a house for Lilian’s Mother Serena. I was touched by the community spirit and the strength of the cultural roots that we experienced there.

Lilian Hill from Hopi Tutskwa permaculture

Please consider supporting her and her community.

Serena Dewakuku cobbing

 

 

 

 

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