How to Build a House… and a Community

Hello Everyone!

Back in May, as you know, we at Cabrini Ministries were not really in the business of building houses. We provide educational support and housing for orphans at the hostel, and healthcare and nutritional support for the local community with our drop-in center and outreach programs. But in June, a string of opportunities propelled us head-first into residential construction, so we started building houses.

First, some context… The Swazis in our community often talk about how much better things were 30 years ago. Traditional mud and stick huts were better maintained, and thatch roofs were made of the expensive, good quality thatch from outside the area. Well-built and well-maintained traditional huts do fare decently in rough weather and heat. But today, because the adult labor force has been hit so hard by HIV and AIDS, many people can’t maintain their huts as well as in the past. People use cheaper thatch that must be replaced every year, and there are less healthy adults to do this. As a result, many of the huts are in poor shape, with no roofs and not much protection from the elements. Some living situations are not even huts, but makeshift structures. Orphans and the elderly are two groups in particular need of better housing.

The Swazi government organization NERCHA (The National Emergency Response Council on HIV/AIDS in Swaziland) receives money from the Global Fund for improvement projects in Swaziland. We contacted NERCHA and shared that our community was in need of housing, and in June we were awarded a grant of about $100,000 to produce 35 houses for the most in-need orphans and elderly in our community by December. We immediately got started. The photo above is the existing hut in poor condition (as you can see, with no real roof) from the homestead where we built house #1. In the photos below, we will take you through the process of building a house as we learned to do it.

The houses we built were made of cement, so first, you need many bags of cement.

With those bags of cement, we made bricks. You can build about 32-37 cement cinder blocks out of one bag of cement, sand, and water. It takes between 350-420 bricks to make one house. So we had to make a lot of bricks.

We used our maize-drying area as a makeshift brickyard because it is fenced. The bricks need to be watered three times a day as they are drying, and they take 7-14 days to fully dry.

Next step is mixing the cement and pouring the foundation. The houses are fifteen feet by fifteen feet.

We then lay and mortar the bricks and put in some steel reinforcers. This house is a double-house for a boy and a girl family of orphans so they could each have their own space.

One of the best parts about this project is that we were able to hire local young men to work on the houses as contractors. There are lines at the door for jobs in this area, so this was especially helpful to the community. They were paid the market rate and did a great job. We also had the guidance of Mr. Cuelho from Manzini who helped as a construction manager. And family members and neighbors pitched in. As a result, I believe we were the fastest and most organized house-builders NERCHA has worked with yet.

The last major step is smoothing the cement over the bricks, and putting in the windows, door, and roof. And finally…

Ta-da! A finished house. We are on schedule to complete all the houses by December. These houses were logistically challenging to build, with almost all the materials being made at St. Philip’s Mission, then being transported out to homesteads for construction. But they will be long-lasting and will stand up to weather and heat well. Also, particularly for the orphans receiving the houses, this will help them to be less of a burden on their extended families, and a bit more easily adjusted into society.

These houses are top-of-the-line for the area, and this project has had a huge effect on people and hope in the community. People have really taken pride in the process and everyone has been happy and excited about it. We are so grateful for the grant and the experience!

Happy Thanksgiving to our friends and family in the U.S.
Blessings and love,
Srs. Barbara and Diane

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