Building a new orphanage is relatively easy when you have money, but missionaries tend to give all their money away. There is a group that is working on raising funding, but after waiting awhile to see how quickly money could be gathered, it was clear that we needed to do something cheap in the interim while we work on gathering funding for a permanent home. You can’t delay when the children’s wellbeing is at stake.
Of course the need to build a new orphanage had to come during the rainy season, and what a rainy season it has been! The other challenge is that we had about 2 weeks before the kids went back to school and the younger primary school students would have to change schools.
Because of time and the desire to not sink a bunch of funds into a temporary home, we decided to try out a company called Essential Structures, which makes prefabricated buildings made out of foam and fiberglass panels. A building can be put up in a day and taken back apart and relocated.
First step is prepare the foundation. Easier said than done on black cotton soil. Similar to “muck” in the U.S. When wet, it becomes soggy and slippery and anything of weight just sinks- vehicles, buildings, people, anything. When dry, it shrinks and forms giant cracks. A couple months ago I met with a friends whose sister had dropped her keys on the way home. They fell into a crack and she never saw them again.
We decide to move some good soil from a pile at the other end of the property. Idea 1 was to hire a bunch of guys with shovels and a truck. The truck driver showed up in the morning, took one look at the soggy ground and said I’ll come back in the afternoon when it has dried out. Of course it poured that afternoon. Idea 2 was have Williams drive the tractor from Nanyuki. Good thing they left early since the insurance sticker fell off at some unknown time. It was also a good thing we had lots of guys helping, because they spent most of the day pushing the tractor through the mud. With perseverance, they completed making an elevated pad and finished it off with a layer of crushed rock on top.
The three pads surrounded by ruts from the tractor
As they finished up the pads, I travelled to Nairobi to pick up 2×2 concrete slabs for the floor and the prefabricated building panels. (this section ended up being the length of a blog in itself so I posted it a couple days ago and it is below this blog)
I learned never to order slabs in such a rush during the rainy season ever again. Quality control is not a strong point over here, and the slabs are made outside. With all the moisture in the air, the slabs never cured properly and were extremely brittle. Between loading, unloading, and transport, a lot of them broke. Essential Structures was generous in giving us extras but it was not enough.
With all the materials on site, we had Wednesday to put the slabs down and Thursday-Saturday to put up the buildings.
I learned another mistake regarding the slabs. We should have put a layer of sand on top of the rocks to help level things out. An amateur mistake and we did not have any time to fix it. We spent all day trying to crush the rocks down to get things reasonably level, and we lost more slabs in the process. The idea with the slabs was to have an easy to assemble and moveable floor, but we are going to have to put a layer of concrete to fill in the cracks now.
The Essential Structures guys arrived Thursday afternoon and went straight to work. They put the first 2 panels together to form a corner and then the wind picked up so much that it almost blew the panels and a couple of the guys away. We quickly disassembled things and hunkered down for the coming rain. Great start.
Putting together the first panels before having to stop from the wind
Everything taken back down as the rains hit
The guys were able to put all 3 buildings up in 3 days! They did an incredible job in spite of the rain and uneven foundation. On Sunday, they even came to church before heading back to Nairobi.
Because of the simplicity of the Essential Structures buildings, this may be the first project in the almost 40 year history of our ministry that finished on time and within budget. Next step is moving in the kids…