Innovative shelter for Addo kids

The super-adobe sandbag Langbos Children’s Shelter building is nearing completion
Picture: Supplied

All sectors of the community involved in home project with unusual construction method

The  construction of an unusual children’s shelter is benefiting the whole community.

Situated on the R335, 10 minutes from the entrance to the Addo Elephant National Park, Langbos Children’s Home is being built using sandbag or super-adobe technology ensuring jobs, the transfer of skills and the opportunity for everyone to get involved.

The building grew out of the existing Langbos Community Centre founded by Sundays River humanitarian dynamo Muffy Miller and is being spearheaded by Intsikelelo.

But the community has taken ownership of the project and everyone from gogos to youngsters are making it happen, Intsikelelo president Chris Grava said.

Super-adobe was developed in 1984 by Nader Khalili, of the California Institute of Earth Architecture, and a student from the institute visited Addo to help with the initial training.

With super-adobe, propylene agri-feed bags are stuffed with earth and an optional portion of cement. They are then stacked on top of one another to make walls and domed roofs.

Barbed wire is laid between the bag layers to strengthen the structure, and then the finished stacks are plastered over.

The earth is excavated from an adjacent site and this resource accessibility was a key benefit of the method, Grava said.

“Super-adobe also encourages creativity because the walls can be formed and curved in whatever way you like,” he said.

“But because it’s so simple in engineering terms it puts the emphasis on labour and, in a place like Langbos with all its unemployment, that’s a beautiful thing.”

There are many different roles – digging, sifting, mixing, passing, tamping down – so a whole range of different people with different levels of strength can take part.

“Supporting our main 30-man team we’ve got everyone from old women to young men combining, solving problems and working like a well-oiled machine,” Grava said.

“Lunch is provided for project participants and for impoverished people this mixture of hard work, good food and sense of purpose is improving physical and mental health.”

Just 25 and an American by birth, Grava came to South Africa five years ago to join his brother and they co-founded Intsikelelo, which is aimed at helping orphans and vulnerable children in South Africa.

He also makes videos and, with sponsorship from Go-Pro, he made one about the Langbos Community Centre.

The video reached millions of people, many of whom donated funds, and with this money the shelter project was launched.

About R1.8-million has been raised so far and the project, now four months down the line, is nearing completion.

The hope is that between R100 000 and R200 000 more will flow in to allow the shelter to be finished in about six weeks time.

Grava said the aim was to strive for an environmentally ethical building as well, with the recycling of grey water, gutters and tanks linked for rainwater harvesting, electricity coming from solar panels and a biodigester that would process livestock and human waste.

Miller said with the completion of the project’s first phase, the shelter would be able to accommodate five boys, five girls and a caretaker who would work shifts with a colleague.

There was a desperate need for such a shelter in Addo, she said.

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