A landscape architect in East Africa
By Kate Street
1) Kate Street with children from the deaf school
2) Project site in Burundi, Site survey with help from the
3) Downtown Kampala
4) Architects and landscape architect master planning together in
5) Different technology to get the job done
6) The current primary school for the blind
7) Kerekeren School (the next project Kate will be
Vibrant, red dirt roads. Zero footpaths. The smell of open
fires, assorted meats and popcorn along the roadside. Traffic that
flows in some sort of organized chaos. Defying all sense of logic,
with the occasional goat or cow meandering across. Warm smiles and
greetings from the faces of individuals epitomizing what it means
to live in community. Welcome to Africa!
This is my daily experience now, my way of seeing the world
through a different lens. At this point I'm far from the "tourist"
category, yet equally distant from that of a "local", pointed out
daily by my status as a 'mzungu' (white person) by Africans! I'm a
slender category of my own; newly-minted landscape architect fresh
out of University with a keen desire to work, live and actively
serve in this community, my new home for six months.
This topsy turvy, colourful story blooms from Kampala, the
capital city of Uganda, and home to roughly 2 million people. As a
landscape architect graduate from Lincoln University, this is not
the career path or stable job I originally had neatly blueprinted
in my mind. However I cannot think of anything better right
now than using these skills to serve people and communities, to
share true hope for people and the world through design.
I am a volunteer intern with Engineering Ministries
International East Africa (EMI EA). EMI EA exists to transform
lives by providing hope to the poorest of the poor. We achieve this
mainly through the provision of architectural and engineering
services to the underprivileged in developing countries. Our work
includes facilities like hospitals, orphanages, schools, clean
water projects, and many more which directly impact communities by
meeting physical needs and communicating God's love in a practical
way. This is achieved through in house staff, long and short
term volunteers, and interns from around the world.
Personally I share my vibrant, story filled stint here with nine
other interns: eight Americans, one Ugandan, and myself, the sole
Kiwi! Each of us offers varied skills and experiences with
backgrounds in architecture, construction and engineering. Each
intern is assigned to numerous ongoing EMI projects, they intend to
complete during their stay in Uganda.
I myself am working on a master plan and detailed design for a
school for the deaf and blind in Burundi (one of only two in the
country), which I had the incredible experience of visiting and
appreciating first hand at the beginning of my internship.
With a team of nine volunteers, I set out to Burundi for ten
days to survey the site and produce a preliminary design to present
to the school ministry at the end of the trip. Burundi is among the
three poorest nations in the world, with 70-80% of the population
existing below the poverty line. The country is still picking up
its feet in the after effects of a ravaging civil war.
Through my landscape lens, Burundi is verdant and breathtaking,
flourishing with 'Dr Seuss' like tropical plants and acres of
crops. But the vast effects of deforestation, overcrowding and a
lack of planning bluntly plant themselves in the foreground, like
so much in this region of stark paradoxes.
It is a rare privilege to work on this project as a team with
architects, civil engineers, structural engineers and surveyors. To
come together and share skills within the same office is a really
unique experience. This adventure has been full of new experiences;
including taking on an architect's lens as I adapt my CAD skills to
create floor plans and elevations, affording an exceptional sense
of the bigger picture and considerably more insight into master
planning and construction.
Here in Africa priorities are significantly altered when it
comes to design. Basic principles stay the same, but shelter, water
and resources become the main focus. To overdesign, for example,
would be to render the plans next to useless, or even dangerous, in
light of limited education and exposure to Western construction
methods. While working here has required a different way of looking
at problems, it is clearly evident that the skills we as landscape
architects can bring to the developing world are invaluable.
There is such a strong satisfaction that comes from designing
for someone's basic needs. Designing for blind and deaf children
adds a whole new dimension to the job at hand. Circulation and
heightening the senses of touch and smell intensifies
significantly. I've been challenged as I carefully consider
materials to indicate a change in surface and space. One of my
goals for my internship here in Africa was to really be a 'problem
solver, not a problem creator': to bring some of that 'no8 wire',
kiwi ingenuity to design. This attitude has been crucial in
designing for people whose resources and money are limited. It has
helped me truly ground my design and streamline it to its purest
state for the needs of people and community.
One of the most rewarding parts of this journey has been
spending time with and getting to know the people my design serves.
The project is not about buildings, or the spaces between the
buildings. It's not even about the supply of water, a much needed
resource. It's about the people; the community this project is
carefully nestled within. It's about designing with and serving
these people, in order that they may serve others.
And truly, it is Africa that has served me. I know without a
doubt, that I will bring so much back with me to New Zealand: a new
lens, a new viewpoint on the world, my place in that landscape- and
designing for the poor.
Originally my internship was to be for a duration of three
months. However, I have been given the opportunity to stay on for
another term, finally returning to New Zealand in November. EMI is
a registered non profit organization with all the staff, interns
and volunteers raising support from their home countries. Because I
have extended my trip I will be gathering approximately $5000 from
afar to undertake the next project: a rural primary school in an
impoverished community in Eastern Uganda, currently serving 400
children within 3 small shacks (see picture). If you would like to
support this work, know more about EMI, or discover more about the
work I have been doing please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org,
or visit my blog, kstreetkiwi.wordpress.com