Monday, March 30, 2015

Designing a World of Hope in Equatorial Guinea

As we drove along a desolate highway-- three immaculately paved lanes in each direction with well-manicured flower beds down the center-- I couldn’t help but be struck by the major gap in wealth that divides the country of Equatorial Guinea. Off to the right we caught glimpses of Sipopo, a community of 52 luxury villas that were built for a one-week conference of African presidents. The mansions sit empty now, reminding me of the Victor’s Village in The Hunger Games: a cluster of opulence within a country that has 60-70% of its population living at or below poverty. We passed hundreds of apartments that were probably built for the 2012 African Cup, but are vacant without a pricetag that locals can afford. Oil money has allowed the government and outside investors to profit, yet our project site didn’t even have running water or city electric. 

For a country with so many foreigners coming to profit off of the oil, I was shocked at the  carelessness of the airport. Upon arrival from Gabon our temperatures were taken and hand sanitizer applied before we could enter the country. That was good. They were doing their part to prevent the spread of Ebola. But before our first in-country flight we walked through a security checkpoint with a non-functioning metal detector and no airport employees to be seen. When our flight was called we were herded down several winding corridors to the tarmac where we boarded the plane and grabbed whatever seat we wanted. On our second in-country flight we stood in chaotic line to have our tickets handwritten for us. Afterwards, our three missionary hosts were allowed to bypass security and accompany us to our gate. In fact...some African travelers didn’t even have to go through security. Of course they stopped us suspicious foreigners. 

Although most of our cultural experiences happened en route, our time on site did allow for a few moments unique to Equatorial Guinea. My favorite was when our cook strolled up carrying a live crocodile in her purse. Upon seeing our bewildered faces she plopped down her bag and pulled it out for us to see. After we pet it and took a few photos...she just put it right back in and walked off to the kitchen like it was no big deal. Later we all tried the croc...and then passed it to the Africans who thoroughly enjoyed the delicacy.

Another special moment was the nightly worship of the seminary students. For a half hour every evening they would take a break to sing and play instruments before returning to class. It was great to hear a Spanish version of How Great Thou Art, right after we had heard a French version in Gabon!


Overall, we only had 2 1/2 days on site to survey and master plan the seminary’s less-than 2 acre site. Our process had a unique dynamic, as three of their four directors are local nationals. Meetings had to be translated between Spanish and English, and thus took twice as long. As we worked through designs with the ministry we began to notice a few things that were truly unique to the Equatorial Guinean context. First, we discussed a building at the back of the site that was literally cut in half by a CMU wall. It was explained to us that a Senator owned the property to the rear and built the wall where he wanted it...reducing the length of the seminary’s property by several meters. Nonetheless, a new road was constructed at the front of the property several meters forward of the previous road and actually allotted them more land. In addition to the strange property conventions, the ministry insisted on a multi-level structure at the front of the property. We assumed this was meant as a status symbol, a common wish amongst our African clients, but that isn’t what we were told. According to the directors, the government will seize property without a significant presence on the main street because they are considered to be making poor use of the land. 

Existing Education Center
Existing Education Center
It was truly astounding to see so many visible impacts of a corrupt government. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the disparity between rich and poor as clearly as I did in Equatorial Guinea. At the same time, however, the ministry was one of the most joyous that I’ve worked with. The directors were constantly joking around and truly committed to improving the lives of their students and the communities they reach. I am hopeful that our buildings will allow the ministry to “make good use of their land” and allow them to keep what is rightfully theirs. I am proud that EMI could go to design a world of hope. 

Our team with the two missionaries that gave us a tour of Malabo on a 6 hour layover

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Gabonese Village Church

After the service we greeted every person in the congregation in a processional. They sang for us, hugged us, and tried to speak in either French or their tribal language so we just laughed that nobody knew what anyone was saying.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Cross-Cultural Design

"To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some."
1 Corinthians 9:20-22

Our time in Gabon was kicked off with a devotional on this part of Corinthians. We discussed how we, American architects and engineers, could possibly become like the Gabonese in order to succeed at the job God called us to do. Sometimes, we realized, relating to the Gabonese wasn't as complex as understanding their deepest cultural values. Sometimes, it simply meant not assuming that their perceptions are, or should be, the same as ours. 

In the U.S. I have been to two monkey-themed baby showers. They were full of cute monkey decorations, cakes, and registries full of monkey clothes and baby accessories. Along with elephants and giraffes, monkeys are often adorning children's clothing in America. But what about in Africa where monkeys, elephants, and giraffes are actually walking around?

Many of the pediatric doctors at Bongolo keep toys to give out to their patients, including beanie babies. When we asked about the few animals remaining on the shelf, one doctor gave an explanation of why she couldn't hand those out. The lamb, because she uses it for Sunday School demonstrations; the dragon, because it's too terrifying for the kids; the monkey, because when asked "what is this animal?" the kids responded "meat!!".

It was a shockingly different perspective. Could you imagine any kid in America wanting to eat a cuddly monkey? I further recognized their extremely different view of monkeys when I saw this warning poster for Ebola:

However, in relation to the architecture and engineering we had to dig a little deeper into understanding the Gabonese (although I think understanding their view of monkeys was a good start).

Like Paul, we had to find a way to become like the locals in order to ultimately bring them something greater. We had to play by their rules and take cues from their designs and methods of construction without compromising on the aspects that we know are important.

We took a lot of cues from the existing trusses on site. We realized that the EMI-designed truss (bottom-right photo) was correct overall…but the wrong metal shapes were used. With the information that we have from this trip, we now know that this is the metal that they will use, and we should design accordingly on the next structure.

We also learned that the construction men will only dig a certain depth for septic tanks and then stop. Therefore, we need to calculate the size of future septic tanks with this number, even if that means making it really wide. 

In addition, the construction teams will only use 6" CMU. We have been designing everything with 8", and didn't discover that it isn't being constructed that way until we were on site. Knowing this information might change the structural designs and is critical for our future buildings.

All of this information really validated, to me, the importance of traveling to the sites for which we are designing. Although it took about three days to get to the hospital…visiting the campus is not something we could have compromised on. In addition to the information that we gathered from physical structures on site, we also learned a lot from talking to the staff and reading their body language. One of the most important things I've learned from working in a cross-cultural setting is the difference in the directness of Americans, and the indirect communication of most Africans. Although many of the Bongolo staff that we worked with are American, we did face the difficulty in understanding indirect communication with the local staff members that we met. As if architecture wasn't hard enough without miscommunication…

EMI + Bongolo

The first leg of this project trip was spent in LeBamba, Gabon at Bongolo Hospital. It was a huge privilege to go to Bongolo, as EMI has done two previous trips and other in-house projects for this hospital. We love partnering with Bongolo, because as part of the Pan African Academy of Christian Surgeons (PAACS) they are having a huge impact on the nation of Gabon. Not only do they provide healthcare for 1/3 of the country, but they are striving to train local African surgeons, nurses, and midwives so that it is no longer necessary for westerners to provide so much of the healthcare. Currently, the hospital staff includes American general surgeons, physicians, and opthamologists, surgical residents of many nationalities, Congolese general practice physicians, and Gabonese CRNAs. An average of 900 patients are seen each week.

Overall, the travel time to Bongolo was about 3 days
On the way to Lebamba we stopped at a pastor's house in Lambaréné for lunch. They fed us omelets, tomatoes, baguettes, and mysterious local fruits that were far too sour to eat! 
Our transportation for the 11 hour ride from Libreville to Lebamba was this van. It only took the American doctor about 7-8 hours to drive it, but Africans are known for their unique view of time. Nothing is too important to hurry.
This is the whole design team plus Keir, the head surgeon (red shirt), Ally, a visiting nurse that cooked dinner for all of us every night (front and center), and Paul the ground's keeper (the head popping up in the way back)
Our goal at Bongolo was to provide several things. First, we came up with a new master plan so that the hospital's future growth is strategic and functional. Second, we were tasked with the design of a surgical consultation space, a lecture hall and dry lab for the nursing school, and a new lab closer to the center of the campus. We also had a team of 4 electrical engineers that analyzed the entire site and provided suggestions for improved electrical practices. Work on these trips is intense. Most days were from 7am-midnight. Now that we are back in the office, we will continue to develop our drawings into a construction set that can be used to build our designs.

The team discussing master planning with two of the surgeons
Beautiful Bongolo Church

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mali Project Progress

There is just about a week before I head off to my project trip in Africa!

Our team had to send our passports to the Gabonese Embassy in DC to get visas into Gabon so we would love your prayers that they come back to us on time. Unlike Uganda who had us toss over a crisp $50 US bill, Gabon requires $200, mailing off the passport, a letter from the ministry stamped and approved by the government in Gabon, proof of a yellow fever vaccination, a two-page application, and more. It will all be worth it if we get there safely and smoothly, though!

Another part of preparation for this trip is to complete my other in-progess projects so that I can focus on these two new ministries. The community center in Mali is coming along great. In the words of the client:

"...let us say how excited we were to look at your plans. They were so much more interesting than the first ones we commissioned. When we got that early version from the local architect we said, 'Oh, this can work.' When we saw these new ones we were like, 'Wow, this is going to be great!''


"Wow, Jordan you did an amazing job at taking our comments into consideration 
and making it work. We love it!"

So we are feeling encouraged that this design might be of real benefit to the ministry in Mali! As I mentioned before, our immediate task is to create a conceptual design that can be used for fundraising, and a team from our West Africa office will further develop the drawings once the money is raised.

Here's a peek at what we've been showing them:

I was also walking around the city of Bamako, Mali on Google Maps and found some really great photos that describe the place!

I hope everyone's new year is off to a good start. I'll be updating next from Africa!!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

YWAM Aquaponics Progress

The YWAMEmerge Aquaponics Greenhouse that I have talked so much about is almost complete! Planting will begin soon!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Fall Project Overview

It is hard to believe, but this week is our Fall interns' last week! Which means…it's time to finish, print, bind, and ship all of our projects and drawings! Now that this semester is coming to an end, I've realized I still haven't written about a few of my projects, so I thought I'd give a Fall Project Overview.

    Here's where we're looking:

Throughout the Bible, we are specifically called to take care of the poor, the orphans, and the widows.

"...visit orphans and widows in their affliction..." 
-James 1:27 
"Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed." 
-Psalms 82:3
"Learn to do good; Seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow." 
-Isaiah 1:17

Most of the ministries that we work for are focused on one, or all, of these three groups. However, Gordon & Cheryl Roedding of the Christian Missionary Alliance saw a need and heard a call beyond these three types of people. When Jesus said "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," (Matthew 28:19) the Roeddings understood the importance of spreading the Gospel to all people groups, including educated college students and business professionals. To do this, they decided to teach English classes near the local university in their city of Bamako, Mali.

Before I started working on this project I hoped that I misheard them, and that they really said Bali...

Although both are sandy…I think the similarities stop there. Mali is known as the home to Timbuktu and is becoming better known to Americans now because of its 8 cases of Ebola. The architecture is a mixture of simple African, Dogon, and Sudanese styles. It is also hot. And dry.

The current building that Cheryl & Gordon use for their English program Go Global, has been outgrown. The couple is interested in designing a large community center that could be used for meetings, conferences, and classes. As the clients don't own property yet, nor have they raised the funds necessary for construction, I am focusing on a schematic design and brochure that they can use for fundraising and support. Once they are further along in the process (and our West Africa office in Senegal has been opened) EMI will make a site visit to develop the design for construction.

Hope Community Center Progress, Bamako, Mali

Since 1977, Bongolo Hospital has been serving the people of Gabon and neighboring countries. Not only does this hospital treat thousands of people per year, it also trains local African nurses and surgeons, offers AIDs clinics, and leads many patients to Christ. Over the years, EMI has designed and master-planned many buildings and additions for Bongolo. This semester I have been developing an eye clinic that will be extremely beneficial to the center. Currently, about 70% of cataract surgeries in Gabon are performed at Bongolo. With this new facility, the doctors will be able to treat and train even more people.

Bongolo Hospital
Bongolo Eye Clinic

One of the coolest things about working on this project now, is that I will be going to Bongolo in February! As their hospital campus expands, we will be offering design and planning ideas for efficient and calculated growth. I will also be able to see some of our projects under construction.

While in Africa, our team will also be making a trip to Equatorial Guinea, to begin design on a seminary. I don't have too many details on these trips, but they are bound to be two very packed weeks!

I also would like to plug the movie Mary & Martha really quickly. It provides a glimpse at the needs of healthcare (and simple mosquito nets!) in Africa, and reminds me of why I'm doing this work!