The project has been realized thanks to a joint venture between Maisha and Global Gratitude Alliance (GGA) and hundreds of donors, volunteers, and contributors worldwide. Maisha’s mission is to give life, hope and a future to orphans and vulnerable children who are suffering from extreme poverty and who lost parents or family members to HIV/AIDS or tribal conflict following the 2007 elections in Kenya. GGA empowers dignity, healing, and opportunity for vulnerable and impoverished women and children by supporting local community-based organizations with holistic services to help break intergenerational cycles of trauma and extreme poverty.
Ruai is a semi-rural, fast developing area at the outer eastern border of Nairobi city county, 25 km far from the congested Central Business District and its dynamic, hyper active streets and life. Many people are moving into this area both from the countryside and from other areas of the city such as slums where living condition are pushed to the limit, searching for a better but still affordable environment. All around you can see buildings growing day by day, although every family has still its private shamba (garden) where fruits and vegetables grow to sustain themselves or to be sold in small quantities around the neighbourhood.
Nevertheless the area has just started to realize infrastructures and public facilities. Many roads are just dirt or gravel, often becoming very muddy after rains, and long-lasting blackouts are a recurring event.
The compound consist of the old, poorly-built 4-bedroom house in addition to a fishpond, goats and chicken sheds, an external kitchen, and variety of maize, beans, sugar cane and other vegetable and fruit cultivations grown on the small farm which represent an integral part of the Maisha family’s nourishment. The necessity to build a new house emerged as the number of kids increased over time to a total of 22, leading to a lack of quality space and facilities (2 to 3 kids squeezing in one bed, two toilets for almost 30 people, living room which is also sleeping room, dining room which is also classroom, people sleeping in metal shacks, etc.), causing noisy, crowded, cluttered, and often muddied spaces - none of which was suitable. It took many years of planning, working with municipal agencies, fundraising, and working with multiple architects and project managers along the way to finally start construction in 2014 and finish the house in 2015. The common goal was to give the kids, and future generations alike, a durable, stable, safe, comfortable, and bright and cheerful space in which to live, learn, hope, dream and grow into adulthood - paying close attention both to the needs of the youth as well as those of the caregivers.
Much thought was given to everyday necessities such as cooking meals for almost 30 people (a more spacious kitchen was built to accommodate multiple food preparers), sleeping (each youth now has an own bed and older and younger kids live in separate rooms), storage (everyone has an own space in a wardrobe and a small storage box in which to put books, toys, and other treasures, that also doubles also as a stool or a bedside table – such that all belongings are not piled on beds or pushed inside rice bags, as was done before), personal hygiene (there are 4 more toilets in the new house so each person has the time and the space for proper hygiene), studying and eating (now the dining room that is also used for homework has enough space for everyone to sit comfortably and in a proper chair) so that ordinary life could improve considerably. The choice to use local materials, labour and experts was obvious in order to empower the local economy and workforce, and avoid wasting money on long transports and/or imported goods. In addition, local workers have the much-needed “know how” to handle the local materials, technologies, and finishings. A very simple and traditional technology,system and process was adopted: the main material is the quarry dressed stone, a natural Kenyan stone which has become the “protagonist” of the urban and suburban Kenyan landscape, the structure (pillars and beams) is made of reinforced concrete and the roof is made of local wood planks, then covered with a layer of mabati (metal sheets) and roof clay tiles. The finishings are almost all made in Kenya, as well as all the pieces of furniture, that are hand made by a local carpenter. The processing time was both long and intense, as almost all the work has been done by hand without the help of power machines or tools, as power is very expensive and electric tools are neither readily available nor affordable.