"Insights": Architecture & Education

Italian architect Tomà Berlanda, co-founder of Active Social Architecture, has brought his talents to Rwanda, to assist in the nation's development of quality education environments that place an emphasis on design and community engagement. 

Design Indaba has highlighted his work, it simply is amazing. Enjoy!

You need to make sure that early on in life they have chances – because it is too late to recriminate that students have come from a bad school when they are 20 years old. . . [a]nd so it really brings full circle a range of things that I’ve been interested in – how architecture as a discipline should practi[c]e and operate for everyone.
— Tomà Berlanda

"The Midweek Read": Change from the Bottom-Up: Lessons from an African-based Development Organization

By: Danielle Taylor 

Tostan is an African-based development organization whose approach is unlike most development organizations. Their unique approach has led to unprecedented, sustained, community-led advancements in areas of health, education, governance, economic growth, and environment.

Through 20 years of trial and error, Tostan has successfully demonstrated the value of a bottom-up approach to meeting community needs. When it enters a community, it does not go in with a bag of money and preconceived answers to the existing problems. Instead, they enter with what can be called a values assessment.

 This starts with simplified conversations among community members in which fundamental values are teased out. In a recent presentation by the organization’s founder, Molly Melching, six values have been consistently found in the communities in which Tostan operates: the primacy of the family and social network, peace and unity, hospitality, fulfilling one’s role in society, respect and dignity, and patience and perseverance (especially for women). With these expressions of underlying values, the conversation then moves to identifying what problems exist in the community, determining the causes of the problems, and deciding how the community members can work together to address these issues while maintaining their values.

Image Credit: Tostan

Image Credit: Tostan

This is contrary to the approach of many international aid organizations, despite their best intentions. Typically, outside groups enter with sermons on particular problems, such as the need for an increased number of health works or the rights of women and girls, thereby failing to consider the interconnectivity of these and other issues. These foreign organizations also usually fail to tap into the internal motivation for and ownership of development by residents in the communities in which they seek to serve. This is the key to the sustainability of their efforts.

Most importantly, Tostan doesn’t use the “blame and shame” tactics often elicited by community outsiders. Keeping value judgments, concerning the people engaged in certain practices at bay, allows for an understanding of the underlying reasons for the continuation of harmful practices.

We believe that through this mission we can ensure every person—woman, man, girl, and boy—is able to live a life of dignity.
— Tostan Mission Statement

For example, there is the issue of female genital mutilation (FGM). Of the eight countries in which Tostan has operated, over 7,000 communities have made public declarations to abandon FGM. How was this achieved in light of the considerable international uproar over the time-honored practice, and an equal amount of pushback from practicing communities over the lack of cultural respect and understanding? Tostan’s approach was to first assess the underlying values involved in carrying out this tradition. Of those previously mentioned, maintaining the family and social network and the respect and dignity of the girl child were most highly evident. Families wanted to ensure their daughters’ marriageability and prevent the child from being ostracized by the community for being “unclean”.   

Acknowledging the desire to help the community’s girls was the starting point for further conversations about the implications of the practice such as short and long term health problems that often prevented the girl from being productive in later years.

What’s most interesting about the issue of FGM is that Tostan never explicitly set out to end FGM. It was an outcome of the holistic, community led approach to development. Government foreign-aid agencies, NGOs, and even socially responsible corporations should be encouraged to follow Tostan’s model to realize sustainable and desired development results.

"The Midweek Read": Change is Possible:Uganda.

One of our contributors is currently in Uganda doing some great work in one of the nation’s northern provinces. Here’s his take on the nation’s development progress… 

By: Jordan Bland

The whole of Africa is developing incredibly quickly. Creativity and growth can be seen in virtually every aspect of society. One region worth giving special attention to is northern Uganda. Fewer than fifteen years ago, war was at its peak, and the Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, had complete control of northern Uganda.

At that time, children were abducted by the LRA, and the boys would be trained as child soldiers while the girls were used as either soldiers or, most often, sex slaves. These children would be abducted, starved, trained for two weeks on how to become a soldier, and then sent to the front lines of battle. When a child would do something noteworthy, whether it be killing an enemy soldier or reporting rumors of planned escapes by abducted citizens-turned-soldiers, they would be rewarded with food.

This resulted in once innocent children becoming increasingly willing, and even zealous for the chance to kill or report rumors, knowing the result would be a full belly.

Image Credit: www.jahichikwendiu.com

Image Credit: www.jahichikwendiu.com

When the LRA were finally forced to lay down their arms less than ten years ago, the population of northern Uganda consisted largely of traumatized, uneducated young adults. Despite this fact, the progress that has been made is astounding. Most of the former LRA rebels were given amnesty, and they now have shops and goods that can sustain their families. Many places in the region also practice wage equality for women.

The greatest example of progress, though, is seen in education. This most recent generation of children are excelling far beyond what their parents were able to achieve academically. Most of the young parents in northern Uganda never went beyond third grade, but now it is common to see children complete both their primary and secondary education. And the greatest champions of the children’s education are the parents. They have seen firsthand what a lack of education can lead to, so they push their children further and further in the education system.

Furthermore, in the recent past, many Western educators have come to visit northern Uganda, offering seminars and practical training in hopes of seeing the region rise higher than ever before. For example, just one week ago, there was a visiting professor from Baylor University offering a course in management, finance, and entrepreneurship. One of the adults attending the lectures spoke with the professor and told him, “I am old and unable to read, but I will teach everything you have told me to my son so that he may do the things you are saying.”

This is foresight. This is initiative. This is development,

"The Weekend Read": The African e-Education Phenomenon

By: Deonta Wortham

Imagine being a child using tech instruments to assist you with your homework. Imagine being a 6th grader and using your cell phone to help with math homework.  For many of us, the idea of doing so is a memory rather than an obscure concept. It is something that is tangible, we’ve done it. We know how it feels to use a computer to assist in our learning process; we’ve done so for countless years. But children residing in developing nations, particularly those in Sub-Saharan Africa, the ability to access tangible forms of technology made for education purposes is a mere luxury; something that is scantly accessible.

However, an extraordinary phenomenon is taking place across the African continent. African tech startups are increasingly launching programs that aim to bring educational resources to African students outside of a classroom setting.  Most importantly they are doing so by utilizing tech instruments that are readily accessible to African students.

In Tanzania, Ubongo, a children’s program, is using “edutainment” to equip young Tanzanians with literacy and numeracy skills that are overlooked in African classroom setting. The reach of Ubongo is breathtaking. On Saturday mornings thousands of young Tanzanians gather around their family’s television sets and directly interact with characters of Ubongo by sending text messages to answer math and reading questions. Due to the immense impact that the organization has had since its launch has led Ubongo is currently in the process of expanding it broadcast across the East African region.  

Sterio.me a Nigerian tech start-up, focuses on engaging African learners outside of the classroom using a model that is similar to that of Ubongo’s. Sterio.me tasks students with the responsibility of using their mobile devices as a means of reinforcing the lessons that they learn in the classroom, on a daily basis, through the uses of skill specific quizzes that are then sent to their instructors.

Both of these enterprises are transforming the way that young Africans are learning across the continent. Innovative ideas, such as these, will play a pivotal role in transforming the African narrative. In their efforts we are able to see the possibility of developing sound methods of learning reinforcement vital to the development of the African youth population. e-Education is laying the foundation for a learned and prosperous African continent, let’s collectively work together to ensure that their work does not go unmerited. Let’s encourage the establishment of enterprises of this sort, knowing that they broaden the capacities of the African continent and its people while strengthening the African continent’s development effort. 

"The Weekend Read": The Scope of the African Social Entrepreneur

By: Deonta Wortham

A lot can be said regarding the development effort across the African continent. In last week’s “Weekend Read” we discussed that conclusive development goes beyond the introduction of basic infrastructure to impoverished communities. This week, we pivot to one aspect of development across the African continent which is exceedingly contributing to the wider development effort; that is the work of the African social entrepreneur.

These individuals are initiating tasks that are directly impacting the lives of countless Africans across the continent. They are creating an arena for collaborative communal growth while empowering marginalized communities –such as the poor, rural citizens, and women- that have long been overlooked by national governments. African social entrepreneurs are giving a voice to the voiceless and equipping individuals with the skills needed to positively contribute to their respected societies.

In Uganda, Best Aiyorworth established the Girls Power Lending Organization, an association that focuses on providing women with needed financial assistance to establish businesses. The organization’s hope is that these new financially empowered female entrepreneurs will then invest in the education of young girls in Uganda's Nebbi Region. So far there efforts have been a success; countless women have established local enterprises and many young girls have likewise received an education on the part of female benefactors. Mind you Best is only 21, and has one The Anzisha Prize work the work her organization is undertaking!

In Botswana, Positive Innovation for the Next Generation (PING) is a youth-led organization that has instituted intensive training programs that equip young Batswana with skills needed in the nation’s growing tech industry. These young Batswana are receiving tech-focused skills that are aimed at assisting in the nation's development process, and ultimately contributing to the development of the continent's ICT sphere.

In 2005, South African Neftaly Malatji, who is 22, formed the Diepslott Youth Project which aims to equip young adults in the township of Diepslott, just north of Johannesburg, with marketable skills that are desired across the labor market. So far, Neftaly and his team have help hundreds of young adults attain computer skills and countless others have taken advantage of the other training programs that the organization offers.

Across the continent individuals and organizations are charging forward with a “banner of progress” that will mark the transformation of the African continent. Young Africans, across the continent, are initiating formative steps that will go on to assure that the development of the African continent occurs in a manner that reaches every African, and takes into account every African voice.

The stories that I have mentioned do not tell the entirety of the work that is being done by social entrepreneurs across the continent. These individuals number in the thousands, and are equally making a concerted effort to ensure that the development of the African continent and her people comes on the part of African citizens that are willing, and capable, of transforming the African narrative.