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Innovative interlocking block project lifts slum from poverty

By By JAMES WANZALA | Sep 10th 2013 | 3 min read
By By JAMES WANZALA | September 10th 2013


A community based organisation, Bridge for Rural Urban Development (BRUD), is turning around the lives of slum-dwellers in Nairobi in a big way. The CBO based in Mukuru slums aids the locals  to make stabilised interlocking blocks.

BRUD Chief Executive Officer Mr Patrick Mbelesi says the innovation addresses poverty in the informal settlements of Nairobi as well as rural areas. ‘‘We got the idea on the Internet and agreed that it would be better to try this project and help jobless youths and reduce crime levels,’’ said Mbelesi.  BRUD, a lobby for small self-help groups formed in 2009, empowers youth and women to alleviate poverty and create jobs.

 It operates in the seven zones of Mukuru including Reuben, Njenga, Lungalunga, Kisii Village, Kayaba and Hazina. Currently, the CBO produces blocks at St Jude Catholic Church a compound in the Mukuru kwa Reuben slum.

Mbelesi says they are in phase one of training and production of the blocks. Phase two involves the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development officials training locals on low-cost house construction. Block building started in June  after the former Ministry of Housing donated a hydraform interlocking brick making machine to the group. The project was commissioned by Imara Daima Location Chief Elspheth Kirigu (pictured) and Mukuru Kwa Reuben Assistant Chief Paul Kathiaka.

 The duo expressed confidence that the project would help the slum dwellers and boost them economically. ‘‘The project will enable slum dwellers construct block houses which will prevent them from frequent fires which have caused many deaths and loss of property,’’ said Elspheth.

Production costs

She wants the government through the Ministry of Housing to launch the project nationwide and help create jobs for jobless youths. Challenges according to project Chairman Paul Makau is the availability of red soil, which he says it is not easily found in Nairobi.

 This forces them to source it from as far as Ukambani, Kajiado and Kiambu hence incurring high transport and fuel costs. ‘‘Since the project is still young, we are sometimes forced to dig deep into our pockets to offset such costs and payment of youths that’s why we are calling for funding to make the project a success,’’ says Phylis Mbaka, the project regional coordinator.

 The project has employed ten youths who were trained by officials from the Ministry of Housing. More are willing to be trained. Phylis is optimistic that the pending Arbitrary Demolitions and Eviction case if successful,  will enable slum dweller construct permanent houses thus creating a bigger market for the blocks. 

The project involves making bricks using locally available materials like red soil with a mixture of cement to stabilise the blocks to make long lasting and strong blocks.

 The hydraform machine is labour intensive but fuel driven and requires a labour force of six to eight, exclusive of sieving soil and curing which can produce about 500 blocks per day.

 Hydraform blocks take two weeks to dry. They are also eco-friendly since they do not need to be cured using using firewood. They also they do not create quarries. The hydraform-interlocked bricks, common in South Africa, cost less and can be used to build low cost housing. Many NGOS have also embraced the technology, for instance the BIRD Initiative, a training advisory and community mobilisation NGO.

 It recently conducted a training exercise with the Ministry of Housing in transferring skills in technical construction to 20 youth in Magare, Rongai. Hydraform machines are well suited to the programme due to their mobility and can be transported with ease to the most rural of areas.


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