Three New Kindergartens in the Kavango Region

From Kurt Zbinden

Together with the medical field team of July 2017, four “builders” also took the trip to northern Namibia, with the aim of building three Kindergartens during the five weeks of our stay. An ambitious goal considering the technical possibilities available for building in this area of Namibia.

But first things first.

May this year, my wife celebrated her 60th birthday. Instead of “pointless” presents, she decided to raise money for the construction of a Kindergarten. In doing so, 1’420 francs were collected, which we rounded up to 2’000 francs and donated to Mudiro for the construction of a Kindergarten in Nyangana.

After a lot of organising during the first weeks of our stay, we started with the construction work on the 10 of July 2017. The first Kindergarten was supposed to be built along the tar road B8 outside of Andara towards Divundu. A metal construction consisting of pillars, roof racks, as well as a roof out of corrugated sheet metal, was already on site. The building materials (cement bricks, gravel/sand/cement for the concrete ground, 3 windows and 1 door) were delivered and unloaded. Before the work could begin, the about 30 “Kindergarteners”, who until then, attended Kindergarten lessons under the existing tin roof, had to be moved. Full of excitement for their new Kindergarten, this didn’t seem to be a problem for the kids.

Together with local builders we began with the construction. Also, back on the team was Daniel, the retired foreman / coordinator of the very first Kindergarten in Andara, as well as Aron, a versed builder, who ensured the connection to the government and officiated as responsible of the Kavango region. Aron was also the one who brought the needed tools like a measuring tape, a level, trowels, a levelling board and so on. First, the foundations for the brickwork had to be marked out. For this, lines were drawn in the sand, with sticks. Sadly, at the beginning, only one shovel was available for the digging, which means first additional shovels had to be organised. Already it got about over the “bush telephone”, that a Kindergarten was being built and we were in need of more shovels, so suddenly men with shovels arrived on the site, from all around.

All in all, there were suddenly 13 people on the site, who participated more or less in the construction. The work ethic was not the same for everyone. Some dug, mixed and laid bricks from the early morning until late afternoon without even taking a break, whereas others stood around and chatted a lot. With that number of people, we were able to build two teams to lay bricks who pulled up the walls in a relatively short time. On the two long sides the three windows were built in and on one wide side towards the porch, the door was put in. For the floor, a type of concrete was mixed, which was put directly onto the sand without adding reinforcement. Reinforcement was also not necessary, because the carrying capacity did not need to be big. Unfortunately, the freshly concreted porch was not blocked enough so that some goats had left their footprints overnight.

The glasses for the three windows, bought in Divundu, did not all fit into the window frames, although the windows are normed but nevertheless each of them had a different size. The with the glass delivered glass cutter did not work either so that the glass had to be cut with pincers. The bricked walls were plastered on the inside so that after their complete drying they could be painted. The inner and outer painting work will have to be done by a next Mudiro Team in September/October 2017 because after one week in Andara we had to move to the next Kindergarten site in Nyangana.

In the third and fourth week of our stay, us builders were joined by two young women, Manuela and Steffi. Together with Daniel and Aron as well as some more helpers, they took care of the second Kindergarten in Ndiana. This had the same ground construction as the Kindergarten in Andara and was finished within two weeks including the painting.

In Nyangana everything was completely different!

For the construction of the third Kindergarten, a suitable site had to be found. Together with Father Maurus, the leader of the catholic mission of Nyangana, we agreed on a site next to a big tree which will protect the future kindergarten from the sun. Father Maurus thought, we should move the Kindergarten around ten metres away from the surrounding roads. This would have meant that we were building a Kindergarten of the length of around 100m! There the ideas differed quite a bit and Father Maurus was pretty surprised that we were “only” going to build one single small room for around 30 children.

Within a short period of time we were able to win five young me, who cleared an area of around 1’000 m2 from tree stumps, bushes and sharp thorns. In the meantime, we organised the needed construction materials on a building market in Rundu. After one day, the area was clear enough so we could mark out the actual building site. There the men had to dig the roots out of the sand, so that we could actually start with the construction. After the men had received their “pay” for the two working days, we were waiting unsuccessfully for them at seven o’clock on Monday morning after the weekend! Now we had all the material on site but no more workers. After half an hour of searching, we had found another six workers.

We could finally get started. Without any tools, we had to give the future building right angles: there we had to make use of the good old Pythagoras! Thanks to great commitment of the new workers, the strip foundation was finished within half a day. Other than with the other Kindergartens, we first concreted the ground before beginning to lay bricks. That way the waste of mortar for layering the bricks could be minimised. This paid off in the end: we could even sell a bag of cement instead of buying another five.

Because all jobs had to be done by hand (damping the stamped sand ground, mixing of the concrete and getting it with wheel barrows, compacting, splitting bricks with a trowel and so on) the whole thing took ages. Nevertheless, by the end of the week the bricks were layered to the top and the windows and door built in.

In contrast to the Kindergarten in Andara, here the roof also had to be constructed and because of that, the construction with only four men could not be completed entirely until the day of our departure. In the end missing were: the finish of the plastering on the inside of the building including the painting and the porch construction on the outside. At least we could paint the outside walls white. So, the Kindergarten looked quite neat already.

Unfortunately, we also had problems with the window glass of this Kindergarten. Although we measured every single of the nine glasses individually, the people of the glass store in Rundu were able to cut all glasses to big, again! We should have obviously checked the already packed glasses: TIA (This is Africa)!

Despite all of these difficulties, setbacks, disenchantments and improvisations the construction of the two Kindergartens was a valuable experience for me. It showed me that not only are there different customs and rules in different countries and different standards are applied, but the technical possibilities to build in this region are practically inexistent. Nevertheless, we managed together with the local population, to produce something sustainable, within a short period of time. The contacts with the builders, their considerations and ideas to solve a “problem” was always interesting to observe. Even though I did not understand their language, the word “problem” was mentioned time and again, when there was something rather special or unusual to be done. But with a lot of humour and nearly unending discussions, every “problem” could be solved.

This is also Africa!