Questionable Demolition

For the past two days CES’s latest initiative, the construction of a new dormitory at one of our sponsored schools, has officially begun, with the commencement of demolition of the dreaded ‘Mud Dorm’.  This project has only been possibly thanks to the tireless efforts of both our Kenyan and Canadian CES families, specifically the fundraising efforts of the St. Agnus church chapter of our organization.  Months after conception of the idea, and after donating countless hours and money, the dream has become a reality and the ‘Mud Dorm’ is coming down.  Needless to say, I had to bare witness to the happenings.

The demolition consists of three phases, spread out over three days.  Phase on began on Monday and focused on taking down the roof, looking to take down all of the corrugated iron sheets and the wooden support structure.  Phase two was going happen on Tuesday and was looking to have the infamous mud walls taken to the ground.   The final phase will begin on Wednesday and will look to tear up the old foundation and clean up the site, leaving it ready to have construction begin as soon as possible.

Now, I don’t claim to know a lot about construction.  Making Lego houses?  Maybe.  Legitimate cement mixing, wood cutting construction?  Absolutely not.  The closest that I’ve ever come to building a structure was the cardboard box I converted into a Freezee stand in grade 6.  I remember I once tried to put together a habitat for my pet mice, but it failed miserably and they escaped into the walls of the house.  And that was a pre-made set!  The only job that I have ever had that even came close to construction was when I worked for the city, and even then I spent 90% of my time driving around in the 4X4.

However, it came to my attention that there were a few things going on in this Kenyan demolition site that likely would not meet the Ontario code for safe workplaces.  For one, it seemed strange to me that every one of the workers were walking around in sandals, some even in their bare feet.  Keep in mind that this is a DEMOLITION project, and thus the whole ground is littered with debris of various degrees of danger.  Rusted nails, crumbled cement, splintered boards, it was all there, and yet I can think of one worker in particular that was carrying out support beams in his bare feet, walking over everything with no concern at all.

And then consider the danger from above.  I remember that one of the most ridiculous regulations I had to follow as a city worker was that I must wear a helmet while watering the high-above flower baskets.  You know, in case the sprinkle of water was to crack open my head.  Now, travel over the Kenya, where the idea of regulated precautionary measures is up to one’s own discretion.  As the workers on the roof managed to remove the nails and iron sheets they would simply just toss them down to the ground below, which also happened to be where the other workers were standing.  Nobody bat an eye, nobody even looked up to see whether ceiling debris might be hurtling down towards their demise.  In fact, the only time any of them seemed to be concerned about this potential hazard was when I happened to be standing somewhat close to where they were working overhead.  Ignoring the fact that I, and unexperienced observer, was even allowed to stand in the middle of ground zero to begin with, I appreciated that they warned me before they tossed down the heavy metal.

Now, let’s talk demolition tools.  When I arrived on site that first morning I noticed the workers dragging large tree branches up the hill to the Mud Dorm.  They started chopping the branches into smaller pieces and nailing them together in a one row checkerboard pattern.  At first I figured that it was going to be used as a support beam of some kind, until I saw them lean it up against the structure and walk up it to get on top of the roof.  They had constructed a ladder.  They literally had cut down branches to create an uneven, misshapen ladder of questionable integrity.  Couple that with the fact that they only had pieces of rebar rods and thick metal pipes to beat down the wall with, it is safe to assume that there would be a lawsuit or two if that were even attempted back home.

Even just consider the back breaking labor that this project required.  There were no power tools to be seen aside from the raw brute strength exerted by each of these workers.  They bashed and lashed, pried and pulled at the structure until it finally gave way.  At times they were literally pulling at the loose boards with their own bare hands in order to pry them lose, often leaving them standing right in the middle of the crash zone.

As these impressive workers carried on with their work, the necessity of this project became more and more apparent.  Early on it was discovered that in certain parts of the floor the earth below had gone away, meaning that there was 4 inches of hollow space below the concrete layer.  As well, when the plaster layer of the wall was removed, revealing the inside, you could see that the insulation was literally mud that had been layered in.  The mud crumbled away with little to no effort at all.  Upon closer inspection of the corrugated iron roofing sheets, you could see that they were all rusted and many had holes dotting their surface.  It would seem that this structure was going to come down in one way or another, either by our own effort or simply by the continued abuse from the elements.  If you don’t believe me, I should mention that there has recently been an incident at another one our schools where one of the pit latrines had unexpectedly collapsed.  This was particularly unexpected as it did not show any significant structural problems, unlike the mud dorm.  Luckily, no students were around then the latrine collapsed and nobody was hurt.

I should also note the amazing resourcefulness of the people involved with this project.  Not one scrap of the demolished materials will go to waste, every ounce of it to be used for another purpose.  The crumbled mud pieces are later to be used to fill in the holes and unevenness that has formed on the roads and walkways throughout the school compound.  The old tin roofing sheets will likely be used to expand the chicken coop and cow houses.  The electrical parts were salvaged and will be used in other structures that require them.  There is no inclination to simply send these things off to a landfill or dump site of some kind.  Rather, there is a place for it somewhere in the school and it will undoubtedly find its place.

As I type this the job should be completed.  The site should be cleared and cleaned and the Mud Dorm should be no more.  Now the more difficult part can begin, that being the construction of the new facility.  The money has been raised, and we are simply waiting for the construction plans and schematics which the government is supposed to be completing this week.  If everything works out like it is supposed to, as the new Form 1 students arrive in late January there should be a new dormitory ready for them, free of leaking roofs and cracked floors, void of invading bugs and insects, properly insulated and constructed.  Thus, everything said, the new ‘St. Agnes’ dorm will be a huge step forward for these students and should be integral for helping them achieve their full academic potential in the new year.  Great work to everyone involved!

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