Asilong CHM Secondary School: Another Story from Kenya

Asilong CHM Secondary School: Another Story from Kenya

A Transformational and Educational Center for regional Pokot North within the greater Asilong area. This was the vision that was shared with us a little over a year ago after three of us from our church community in Kansas City had arrived in Kenya with over 300 lbs. in luggage, books, medical supplies, back-packs, and surveying equipment. The Elders of the villages near Asilong, Kenya changed their community’s trajectory when they donated a plot of land with the understanding that it would be developed as a secondary school for their children, and a community center for the entire region. It is easy to imagine the enormity of this project when you re-read the vision. This project will serve a very large region in Western Kenya, and a project of this type is unprecedented in this place. I thought I was going there to help design a classroom building.

header image: typical Pokot landscape

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Future students of Asilong CHM Secondary School

Needless to say, we were all pretty surprised to learn about everything that a secondary school and community center entails: a campus with over 15 buildings, outdoor learning and activity environments, food production, energy production, water conservation and collection, all serving the students and broader community alike. We couldn’t have been more excited. The wisdom and vision the people of Asilong have displayed continues to amazes me.

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Site plan of Asilong CHM Secondary School

If you have not had the chance to read Laura Lesniewski’s post from a few weeks ago, this would be a good chance to go back and learn about what we experienced on that trip, as well as read some pretty inspiring stories about all the great things already happening in this extremely remote and beautiful part of Kenya. I am writing this a few weeks after returning from another two-week journey to Asilong. This time, five of us from Kansas City and one brave engineer from Tipping Mar in Berkeley, California went with the focus of continued relationship-building with our brothers and sisters in Kenya, and the start of construction of the first building on the secondary school campus, the garage/maintenance/storage facility, or as some like to call it, the prototype building. It will serve as the model for the rest of the buildings on the campus.

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Rendering of garage/prototype

The structure is small in scale, so it gave us a chance to better understand the unique challenges, and therefore neat opportunities, that building in this area presents. Because transport to this remote village is quite difficult and, consequently, extremely costly, sourcing local materials is very important. We are currently working with a local brick maker to develop his business by making better quality bricks on site, while using all local laborers (Pokot men who are transitioning from a warrior lifestyle) in the brick-making process. Asilong finds itself in the middle of the Great Rift Valley, a major earthquake zone, and because this is a campus that will help raise the next generation of Kenyan leaders, the safety of these young adults is critical. The buildings will be constructed to confined masonry standards, a traditional construction method incorporating slightly different detailing. If built correctly, the structures will be able to withstand a large quake. We shared in the excitement with our contractor and his team as they learned a new, safer, better-quality way of building. These are among the many of examples that show how this project is creating opportunities beyond providing kids with a quality education.

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Local brick maker excited about his new business opportunity

In this extreme climate where there is no access to the grid, passive design strategies must be utilized. Building with mass and incorporating natural ventilation is extremely important. The buildings on this campus will utilize a large canopy-like metal roof, an open structure space for good ventilation, and a bamboo and papyrus ceiling, creating a sound buffer from the noisy metal roof. Louvered windows will be provided throughout each classroom to allow for more light and cool breezes in the classroom. This will be the first time ever in Asilong that class will be able to continue through a rainstorm, and that a classroom will provide adequate daylight and comfortable temperatures. With rainwater harvesting at each building, a campus-wide strategy to control erosion and promote plant growth, and photovoltaics for energy supply, this campus will be a model for all schools and communities throughout the region.

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Progress images sent from Asilong, almost complete!

While it is very sad that this area has historically seen a lack of acknowledgement, it is incredibly exciting that they now have the opportunity to develop in such a way that will skip the generations of wasteful consumption as experienced in other parts of the world. They have an opportunity to develop in a way that actually gives back more than it takes. They have an opportunity to create a place that is completely inspired by the environment to which they are so deeply connected, and while the people of Asilong will find their lives changed by this project in some way or another, we have found our lives transformed by the wisdom and courage of our brothers and sisters halfway around the world. We all have something give, and certainly we all have much to learn. It is in the spirit of this relationship that we see the true measure of success.