This time last year it was just an idea. Today, that experience inspired an ambition and a change in my career.
Was it already…? This time, a year ago?
I still remember various thoughts popping up during my last day in Lesotho; “Why am I going back? Can’t I stay for longer? How can I have more of this?”
I am sure, we all have been in the same waters; the feeling of being satisfied and not wanting to be pinched back out of the dream.
… And you’re probably wondering, what am I talking about? Why? What? How?
Here it goes…
This time last year, I had just arrived in Lesotho, a landlocked kingdom surrounded by South Africa. It happened after I was invited by my professor and put into contact with Daniela Gusman, a Maltese citizen and co-founder of RISE International. This opportunity of living, working and learning, whilst being part of a well-needed community construction project came right after completing my studies here in malta with a Masters in Structural Engineering, and, well, I couldn’t refuse it.
WHY? – Why did I choose to go?
Working directly with the benefitting community, RISE International incubates ideas and manages projects with sustainable niches that can provide jobs for the vulnerable locals and hence starts to rotate the wheel from the life of poverty. Through funds and various helping hands, Daniela offers the locals essential resources, such as business skills, mentorship and start-up funding, which otherwise would be impossible to reach the community. This system, that RISE holds, intends to reduce poverty by helping a community stand on its feet. In fact, the project that I had the opportunity to be part of, involved the infrastructure of a new orphanage for God’s Love Centre in a suburb village of Lesotho.
GLC has seen a large number of children benefitting from its service and thus as numbers kept on growing, a sustainable project by RISE was just like a silver lining; one which not only provided a roof and shelter, but also job opportunities and learning systems to always improve the capacity building of the users. The invitation by RISE for international students in architecture was indeed the idea to connect similar professionals and train each other through the in loco program – training by doing. This gives one the best performance stage to learn by sharing various aspects of our career, both hands-on and through the connections made throughout the project. More over, I had to meet the team behind the project, the workers themselves who are actually newly graduates like myself from Lesotho. This project will serve as a spring board experience for their future professional career.
WHAT? – What have I experienced?
Mornings in mid July started with slow crackling sounds of our joints after the frosty, chilly nights which got better as we put our hands to work. I still smile at the flashbacks of us opening the frozen steel container and every piece of material that was left outside powdered with white frost. This was totally neutralised throughout the day as the sun starts shining and so the locals start moving, all sharing a joke, a smile or an experience with a “stranger”. It is not easy for an African citizen to showcase his knowledge in front of a white European.The smiles definitely help to break the ice and after that I really appreciated each and every moment when fellows approached me and taught me something new, “Not like that… try this – we do it this way!”
The two weeks on the construction site led me to achieve new skills which I had never ever experienced. It opened my views on new techniques practiced in other countries. Part of the construction involved also vernacular building skills using mud bricks. This was a highlight of the experience. After years of research and learning on such skills, finally I had the opportunity of practicing them and also learning the manufacturing process when we visited a mud brick factory. Two professional architects Luca Astorri from Milan and Pedro Clarke from Portugal mentored the whole process of design and construction. This was a great asset not only for the success of the project but also the growth of each fellow member and thus myself. “Persist in doing something great and not just good!” was a statement regularly shouted out by Luca. And indeed it makes a lot of sense. Being slightly egoistal, it not only makes sense because the product ends up being more of a value but to you yourself, the artist behind the job, will feel much more satisfied when something is done great and not just good! I remember a simple but very impactful example, the brick laying technique. Everyone assumed that the bricks will be put in a stretcher bond pattern as is normally done, until we were challenged by the architects to be different and create something great, not for the sake of being different but for the empowerment that that decision can roll on. Indeed the final design was great – more work but worth the effort, more time but worth the display, more expense but worth the interest!
Working in a team of 15 fellows, sharing responsibility between the team, and managing the site work on a daily basis was an invaluable experience both to my career and personality. After this opportunity I was now just dreaming for a shift in my career.
HOW? – How did it help my career?
I never wrote down all the positive outcomes from this experience, but I am sure it will be a long list. However, being flexible and leaving room for discussion and hence improvements is definitely a lesson to cherish and perform in my career. When working in different cultures, one cannot impose his knowledge and usual settings. This in return, leaves space for creativity and interesting new outcomes. Imagine what you can achieve after you listen, digest and discuss, rather than just imposing what you thought is right.
The interest in such projects and in Humanitarian Architecture has been developing in me throughout the last couple of years. Through my dissertation research in my final year of studying, I brushed over the subject of shelters, deploying tents and covers for when emergency aid is most needed. This topic of research is what led my Professor to invite me to the Lesotho project. I believe that I found another profound reason for architecture. Necessities within communities give a project a sense of responsibility but also great opportunities for creativity, functionality and success.
Thinking about it … it never stopped, I was never actually finished. After coming back to our little island of Malta, I had to actually force myself into other activities. But! This never stopped me from dreaming, and thinking about what’s next.
Why/What/How is next?
Recently I was accepted by Universitat Internacional de Catalunya to study for a unique Master program in the field of International Cooperation with the main focus on Sustainable Emergency Architecture. This jolt is what I am aiming to be the key to my next couple of experiences in my career; being able to share my knowledge with vulnerable communities. The course cultivates the topics of international cooperation on humanitarian aid actions, including not only developing countries but also migration, natural disasters and city resilience.
Throughout 2019, a group of 12 adoloscents have moved from the old GLC orphanage to this new building taking a sigh of fresh breath as they train themselves in becoming independent beings before they leave the orphanage at the age of 18. The old building, became too hectic, due to the high increase in orphans, and thus the idea of RISE International was to utilise the second building for the older children and create a place where the users themselves can be the owners. Through sustainable, income generating activities on the same site, such as the IT facility housed in a shipping container and the vegetable garden on the back gives the users not only responsibility in maintaining the place but also satisfaction and holistic growth.