Children Learn Construction Skills in Africa

02/18/11

Joseph Morrison listened closely to his technology teacher. The mild-mannered teenager attends class at the Children of the Nations (COTN) secondary school in Banta Mokelleh, Sierra Leone. That day was special because the class was outside learning about COTN’s new Hydraform brick-making machine. “It was like a field trip and a chance for them to understand the actual physical process of putting the bricks together,” says Jim Jackson, a contractor from Bremerton, Washington, and COTN partner. “They asked a lot of good questions and were enthusiastic about the whole process.”

With COTN’s growing need for infrastructure in each country, Jim helped COTN research ways to build inexpensively in Africa. They chose Hydraform technology which uses natural resources, eliminating the cost of building materials, transportation, and specifically skilled labor. Dirt is mixed with 5% cement right on COTN property and the clay is compressed in the machine to produce a brick. The best part: no need for mortar between blocks. “It’s almost the same concept as Legos,” Jim says. “They fit top to bottom, end to end, which eliminates a lot of the cost with construction.”

Thanks to partners with a desire to help kids in Africa, COTN received Hydroform machines for Malawi and Sierra Leone. This past January, Jim spent time in both countries to put the machines to work, which involved hiring and training local men. The new machines were also a learning opportunity for the teenagers in COTN’s technology classes. When Jim returns in the spring for the actual building process, he plans on teaching the students even more—empowering them to be part of the process. “We are going to bring these classes to the work site and let them get involved on a hands-on basis,” he says. “That’s part of the plan, so they can learn some of the techniques.”

Joseph, who is part of our child sponsorship program in Sierra Leone, and his technology classmates are anxious to learn the construction skill—and anxious to have additional buildings for their secondary school classes. That will be something they help build with the Hydraform bricks this year, along with a guesthouse for Venture Teams and housing for COTN–Sierra Leone staff. In Malawi, the focus will also be on much-needed secondary school buildings—enough to eventually hold 500 students.

Now that the training is complete and Jim has returned to the US, the machines are producing more than 1,000 bricks a day. In a few short months, both countries will have enough bricks to begin construction. For Joseph and other COTN students in Banta Mokelleh, that means they’ll soon get to be part of the process—learning a skill while also helping to create more buildings that they’ll use for their classrooms. “I’m excited to go back and start building and involve them where they can actually do some of the work,” Jim says. “And creating an infrastructure so that they are in a position so they can succeed.”

You can help! Join COTN in current building projects to help children in Africa or sponsor a child in Africa like Joseph.