Held Together with Spit and Bubble-gum


In our one hour taxi drive to interview a school this morning, our driver shared his own story about failed school construction.

In his village, a humanitarian aid agency from a high income country came to help the community build a school. They didn’t build with local labour or local materials. Instead, they brought outside contractors to build a steel frame of columns, trusses, a metal roof, and asked the community to build the walls. The community pooled funds and three volunteer labourers offered to do the construction— but they had no training to attach their normal brick walls to the alien steel frame.

The organization had left them with instructions to add bands around the walls at the bottom (sill) and top (lintel) of the windows, but only provided enough steel for one band per window. The community labourers successfully added a sill band, but abandoned the lintel band. They used the extra cement to create a floor instead.

When the earthquake came, the walls toppled over. Thankfully the children were spared because they were helping their parents in the field because it was Saturday.

When it came time to rebuild the collapsed walls, they decided to just create a shed — to use the metal sheeting for the walls and roof together. Though it would be hot, they reasoned that their children’s lives would be secure.

The only other hiccup was that the sheeting was riddled with holes from being attached.

The taxi driver bought a load of chewing gum and passed it out to the kids. Whenever they finished a piece, they knew what to do with it.


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