Construction on the new Jitegemee School classroom and library building is in full swing! The grand opening of the new campus is set for this coming August - get excited! Last year, our generous supporters helped us raise $15,000 to design and build a biogas toilet for the school and with every brick laid on site now, we’re one step closer to realizing that goal. Construction on the toilet block and biogas unit is expected to start in July. Thanks again to everyone for their ongoing support and be on the lookout for more updates.
North Side Facing South
South Side Facing North
South Side Facing East
South Side Facing Northeast
The New Rendering
Jitegemee Breaks Ground!
Foundations are being dug and construction is set to begin on the new Jitegemee School campus in Machakos, Kenya. Our designer Patrick Willke was in attendance at the official groundbreaking ceremony to see the site dedicated and to hear stories from past and current students.
Learning from The Slums
After six days in Kenya, my time touring the Jitegemee School and evaluating the site of our future sustainable toilet facility was winding down. Finding myself only a day and a half from flying back to the U.S., I still had one very important meeting to attend. I traveled up from Machakos with the staff of the Jitegemee School and to meet with the Umande Trust and our local architect. The Umande Trust is an organization that builds biogas toilets throughout the slums of Kibera. They were kind enough to meet with us to discuss the feasibility of Jitegemee building our own biogas toilet and to also give us a tour of an existing facility. I was excited to learn from this great local resource and to explore deeper into Kibera.
Kibera, Nairobi is the largest urban slum in Africa. Entering into the sprawling shanty town, located only 5 km from the city center, I was impressed most by the dirty, narrow web of streets so densely layered with people. It was nearly undriveable. Overall, the conditions are deplorable as most residents live in confined spaces without electricity or running water.
Yet, although living is incredibly difficult here, the residents carry a sense of pride. When we arrived at the toilet facility, it was like a little oasis in the middle of the slums — green grass, a thriving vegetable garden, and a well constructed building. The Umande Trust gave us a short tour of the building, showing us the toilet stalls on the first level, a small community office on the second, and a observation area on the roof. At the roof area level, expansive views of the ocean of rusted corrugated metal roofs that define Kibera’s aesthetic dominated the landscape. After the tour, we gathered near the impressively lush garden fertilized by the compost-like slurry produced from the digested excrement.
In the garden, the Umande trust explained the function of the toilet and how it worked within its context to collect and process the waste into compost and biogas. It had apparently been working so well for biogas production that people were diverting the gas piping at night to use in their homes. We were definitely excited to see and hear about its success.
It was only the later stages of the digestion process that still concerned us. How would we adapt the technology to our own needs and numbers? This later phase of the process, namely the overflow slurry sitting in a hole in the ground, still seemed rudimentary and inappropriate for a school setting. The waste water wasn’t all that unsightly, but it still had a tinge of rotten egg odor that left us questioning its quality and level of sanitation.
Our new friends from the Umande Trust assured us that most of the pathogens had been removed and the slurry could safely be used for composting. To get safe greywater, however, we needed an extra diffusion chamber. This extra step seemed crucial to us because we really liked the idea of having a completely integrated, holistic and sustainable process.
After we hashed out some details, we set preliminary dates for an on-site feasibility study, we felt like we had successfully gotten everybody on board and excited about the new biogas toilet for the Jitegemee School. It was a great finale for my trip that will encourage me, and the team, to push the project into its next level of development.
Stop and Smell the Roses
At my high school graduation, our class president gave a speech about enjoying life’s journey on the path to accomplishing ones goals. He raised a good point, the majority of one’s life is spent trying to achieve something or working towards a finished product. If you stop and think about how you’ve spent your time over the past week, the easy answer would be: sleeping, working, doing errands and enjoying free time. The speaker’s message was to remind the class to enjoy all of life’s activities, not just free time. Unfortunately, not everyone enjoys the time they spend at work and the people who do enjoy their job still enjoy taking a break during a tough work week. The alliance for water efficiency has found that the average amount of time a person spends in the restroom is 30 minutes a day and one out of 4 people spend more than an hour a day. Although uncommonly thought of as an enjoyable experience, very often daily bathroom breaks are our break from work and that’s not a bad thing. If we’re going to spend 30 minutes a day, we might as well enjoy it, after all that’s 182.5 hours or 7.5 days a year. I’ve found that stepping away from my desk can feel mentally relieving in itself. With the design of a biogas composting toilet, the students of the Jitegemee school are getting more than a public sanitation need taken care of, they are also getting a place to feel relieved mentally in addition to physically.
The Excitement Builds
A workshop activity where students and parents were able to design the new campus their way.
My name is Mark Palmer and I’m an architect based in Washington, DC. Four years ago, I traveled to Machakos with a group of volunteers from Architecture for Humanity to host a school design workshop with Jitegemee. The goal of this workshop was to engage the students, teachers, parents, and community members in the design of the new school. As architects, we knew how to design a school, but only they knew Jitegemee – their needs, wants, goals, and aspirations.
We spent approximately two weeks working closely with this “planning committee” to discuss what the current school offered, what it didn’t and what they wanted it to be. We visited other schools in the area to help everyone envision similar projects. We engaged in activities that let the planning committee design and draw their ideal school. We talked about and discussed sustainable design and how smart and efficient design could save energy, conserve water, and create a beautiful, healthy, and safe environment. From this workshop and subsequent design collaboration between the Architecture for Humanity, the Jitegemee planning committee, the Jitegemee Board, and Mr. Musau Kimeu – the local Nairobi-based architect of record – a new campus was born.
After four years of design, planning, and fundraising, the new Jitegemee School campus is being prepared for construction – and I’m excited. The construction drawings have been approved and stamped. The land has been cleared. A contractor has been selected. Within a few short months, the foundations will be dug and poured. Shortly after that, the walls of the new Jitegemee School campus will begin to rise, and with them, a new era will begin.
As the walls take shape, a sustainable campus will begin to grow on site. A new library and technology center will host both students and community members helping to spread knowledge and digital opportunities. Expanded classrooms with better daylighting and ventilation will allow students to gather in both large groups and in smaller, more private learning zones. A new toilet will recycle waste and produce biogas to power more efficient stoves in the kitchen saving energy, eliminating the need for costly and dirty charcoal, and reducing waste. Rainwater collection tanks on each roof will collect rainwater and store it for use during the dry season to help keep the garden and tree farm healthy and productive. Solar hot water heaters will heat water free of energy and provide hot water for hand-washing, dish washing, and other sanitary purposes – all from the power of the sun.
Four years ago, a group of students, teachers, parents, and community members began the long process of shaping their future through building. In a few short months, those efforts will begin to take shape, and that dream will be realized. In a few short months, the new Jitegemee School campus will stand as proof of what can be accomplished by trust, collaboration, dedication, and will open many new doors to the future.