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October 25th, 2012
 

After a delay of 18 months, construction will at last start on the first of 20 new school projects in  Burkina Faso. It will be a £170,000 extension to Bethel Secondary School in the provincial capital of Gourcy. The landlocked West African country has one of the poorest records for literacy in the world, as measured by the UN Development Programme. But local demand for education has overwhelmed the existing Bethel school so much that it has become severely overcrowded and turns away a hundred children a year.

 Although conceived in consultation with local people, Article 25’s design for the school’s three new classroom blocks is undisguisedly modern and western. Yet it is an intelligent response to the local climate, while at the same time harnessing local building materials and skills that are readily available and  inexpensive.

 The roofs are the main defence against the fierce tropical sunlight, and were inspired by the local ruse of combining brushwood storage with a shady refuge. The school’s roofs shade the perimeter walls by oversailing them on all sides. In addition they are raised 1.5 metres above the plywood ceilings, so that the intervening space can be cooled by natural cross ventilation.

 Instead of scarce timber, the roofs will be made of crinkly tin supported on simple steel trusses. The walls will be more traditional and constructed by local masons out of laterite sandstone blocks, which is cut by hand out of a nearby quarry. The classrooms will also be ventilated through the window openings, which rather than being glazed will be fitted with adjustable louvred shutters, also made locally.

 A reliable local contractor was appointed by Article 25’s acting chief executive, Robin Cross, on a site visit last month. At the same time he appointed a local team of two architects and an engineer to supervise construction. In a departure from Article 25’s usual procedure of dispatching a western supervisor, this local appointment was made, in Cross’s words, “on the advice of the government due to a perceived risk of kidnapping” in the region. “And by employing local people,” he adds, “we have turned adversity to advantage.”

As for the 18 months’ delay, this was caused by the bureaucratic process of transferring the land tenure to the school’s new local operator, AEAD. This delay has frustrated the team but Cross advises that: “Where an international NGO does not follow the law, they are open to extortion of different kinds, so we need to ensure we meet all regulations in the countries where we operate.”

 A second phase comprising of library and ancillary accommodation will follow on next May. Bethel Secondary School’s entire £290,000 new extension is funded by the UK charity, Giving Africa. The charity regards the extension as a prototype for 20 schools that it hopes to roll out across Burkina Faso.

 By Martin Spring

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