To empower communities to build the infrastructure needed to improve their personal health, quality-of-life, and income through innovative design, project construction, community mason training, and education.
Whether livestock runs amok in the yards, rainwater seeps through a leaky roof, or an entire family sleeps crammed together in one room, the physical structure of many homes in rural Honduras creates an unhealthy living environment for community members. Due to their surroundings, family members face additional risks to both their physical and mental health. Few community members can build healthier homes, as they lack the necessary resources to construct needed infrastructure. Similarly, while many have various ideas on how to garner more income, they need additional infrastructure to realize these projects.
The Architecture Program thus strives to improve in-home infrastructure and economic production in Global Brigades’ communities by designing and constructing small scale or in-home projects such as chicken coops, roofs, and additional rooms that will enhance community members’ health, their quality-of-life and income. By improving their homes, community members can better prevent disease and maintain a positive mental state. Similarly, families choosing to build infrastructure for economic ventures that can generate more income, which could theoretically be used to independently enhance their living space. These important projects are both designed and built by student volunteers in collaboration with community members on 7 days trips to Honduras, called “Architecture Brigades.”
Students volunteering on Architecture Brigades participate in either infrastructure design or constructions. On the initial Design Brigade, they consult with community members and draft blueprints for the in-home infrastructure or small-scale economic development projects sought by the family. Student volunteers must consider both the availability of local materials and cost-effectiveness given the scarce resources within the community whenever designing new structures. On subsequent Build Brigades, students construct the projects alongside skilled Honduran masons and community members and ultimately create the in-home infrastructure needed to improve health, quality-of-life, and income. Regardless of whether it is a Design Brigade or a Build Brigade, all student volunteers teach community members the construction techniques necessary to maintain the projects and ensure that they will continue to serve local families well into the future.
Before architecture projects are implemented, Architecture Program staff meet with communities to establish project parameters and goals in order to ensure the future sustainability of the projects. Specifically, they begin by communicating what needs to be done, the parties’ roles in the project, and the impact that the project will have. It is clearly stated that no project is a gift and that the project belongs to the families. At all times during the project, the Architecture Program ensures that the community is aware of the project schedule and upcoming tasks to be completed. On occasion, project implementation is split up into stages depending on volunteer numbers and brigade seasons. These stages are well established with the community in anticipation of the project implementation. Through working side by side with the community every step of the way, the Architecture Program aims to increase the community’s knowledge and ownership of the in-home infrastructure projects.
In addition to preparing the community, the Architecture Program also establishes an Architecture Committee. The Architecture Committee is comprised of community members who act as masons. They are tasked with project implementation alongside volunteers. This ensures project sustainability, as community members will be able to contract someone to make repairs on their projects should the need arise.
Design concepts are worked on with community members and families through the utilization of student volunteers participating in 7-10 day programs called "Architecture Design Brigades"
Architecture Brigades are typically made up of about 15 or more university student volunteers and other members of the Global Brigades team. Depending on the duration and country, each volunteer fundraises between $1,400-$1,700 which covers the entire cost of working with the community to deliver the design, airfare for the participants, and the follow-up. Some of the specific costs are: supplies, travel insurance, meals, lodging, interpreters, coordinators, ground transportation, and program staff salaries to make evaluation and improve sustainability.
Unlike the projects constructed by the Public Health Program, the infrastructure designs utilized in each home vary in accordance with the family’s unique needs. Thus, the Architecture Program begins its work in a community with Design Brigades in which student volunteers create blueprints for each specific project. Students consult with family members, examine the worksite, and become familiar with local materials and resources before subsequently generating blueprints of potential infrastructure projects that account for the family’s architectural needs. This process enables the students to design projects that are both useful and cost-effective as they have had the opportunity to familiarize themselves with both local needs and resources prior to finalizing their building plan.
Similar to the Architecture Design Brigades, the physical construction of designs are implemented with community members and families through the utilization of student volunteers participating in 7-10 day programs called "Architecture Build Brigades," in which each volunteer fundraises between $1,400-$1,700 which covers a portion of the construction, hire masons, airfare for the participants, and the follow-up.
Rather than simply gifting architecture projects to families in the community, Global Brigades works with the community bank to have each family pay roughly 25% of their project costs. This contribution ensures that community members have an incentive to utilize the new infrastructure and maintain it following project completion as they have already committed scarce resources to the project. Given that community members generally do not have the funds available to pay their portion of costs, the Architecture Program encourages them to utilize loans from the community banks formed by the Microfinance Brigades program. It is, therefore, imperative that the community already has a functioning community bank prior to the first Architecture Brigades.
After student volunteers on Design Brigades finalize their blueprints and families secure funding to make their contribution, project construction begins. Student volunteers on Build Brigades work alongside family members to construct chicken coops, roofs, extra rooms, or any other small-scale projects sought by the family. A skilled Honduran mason hired and trained by Global Brigades is present in each home to oversee construction and explain necessary techniques to both students and family members.
Prior to the first Build Brigades in a community, the Global Brigades Architecture Program and community members select several local leaders to undergo a masonry training program organized by Global Brigades. Not only will the knowledge acquired in this program be utilized to support student volunteers during Build Brigades, but it will also continue serving the community following the completion of all Build Brigades as the masons will have the skills necessary to assist their neighbors with project maintenance. Moreover, the masons will better enable them to find construction work outside their communities, thus further increasing their incomes.
In addition to educating local masons, the Architecture Program and student volunteers also focus on education within local schools. On each Architecture Brigade, student volunteers spend a day in community working in local schools conducting educational workshops with elementary school students. Each workshop addresses different mathematical and architectural concepts rarely addressed in rural schools. Specific topics vary depending on local needs and the student volunteers’ preference. Past topics have included geometric figures, appropriate building materials, and orienteering. Regardless of the subject, these workshops serve to create a more enduring impact on the community as the knowledge will continue to serve the students as they pursue further studies or begin work.
As the final program to enter the community, the architecture program works in tandem with Global Brigades’ existing programs in the community to enable Global Brigades to transition out of the community. It complements the other programs by furthering their goals. All projects serve to improve family members’ health by preventing disease and creating a safer home environment just as the water and public health projects control factors spreading disease in the community. Similarly, the medical and dental programs build healthier communities by treating disease, a goal which will be complemented greatly by the architecture program’s commitment to preventing illness through the construction of healthier homes and living environments. In addition to preventing disease, the architecture program also serves to strengthen the microfinance program by promoting loans as a means of paying for architectural projects. Through their connection with the bank, community members inherently learn new financial skills that they will utilize long after they have finished repaying their debt to the community bank.