Rethinking learning – work before play

New school - step by step

My mind was racing as I was bobbing on the back seat of an off-road vehicle on a mountain road in Haiti looking for suitable sites to build the Finn Church Aid (FCA) schools on. I was thinking about how I could help our teams around the tropical zone as they struggle knee deep in mud with similar problems relating to school construction.

At the same time, our team in the Philippines was busy preparing the construction of 47 classrooms in the aftermath of the super typhoon Haiyan. We were messaging back and forth quite a bit about the school plan which we had already been sketching at the start of the Philippines relief efforts. The main problems appeared to be the timetable for the competitive procurement and the availability of materials.

A large part of our workers involved in building schools are not professionals in construction, but for example villagers who participate in construction through a Cash for work -programme. The local engineers, for their part, might not be familiar with our humanitarian principles and objectives.

Already after my previous visit to Haiti, I had outlined a model that would help make construction more efficient, but now the shaking of the vehicle made some new ideas click into place in my head.

I finally realised that construction in development aid or in a humanitarian crisis requires a simple description, a check-list type guide. A good groundwork already existed, thanks to Matti Kuittinen, who had designed the schools for Haiti, and Sari Kaipainen, who had coordinated their construction. Based on that work, I drew up a guide for building schools: New School ideas for better learning spaces in emergency.

The objective of the guide is to help people involved in construction to take into account some essential elements, such as the principles followed in FCA and in humanitarian work, the quality of construction and keeping costs and timetables within the agreed upon limits, from Haiti to the Philippines.

I hope to get lots of feedback from the guide in order to develop it into an efficient and helpful tool.

I will write more on the joys of an architect, the designing of new buildings and spaces, in the next blog post.

The writer is an architect and a school construction coordinator at Finn Church Aid.