When we first visited Mohak Sharif village in Tando Allahyar in October 2011, the scene was of absolute devastation since flood waters had rendered destitute all 200 families of the village. As they all sat helpless under a fierce sky, having lost almost all possessions, the trauma was palpable in their eyes. The soil was still wet from several weeks of standing water and the remains of their mud walls were streaked with dampness up to three feet.
As we gathered information on the kinds of skills and materials that had been traditionally employed, and began to devise strategies for rebuilding with technically improved vernacular techniques, we could have hardly foreseen that just eight months later, the same village would rise to become the model for our program ‘Build Back Safer with Vernacular Methodologies’.
We had our expectations, but could a collaborative framework between the Heritage Foundation, landlord Mahmood Nawaz Shah and the villagers yield a demonstration project for disaster-risk reduction strategies and a training centre for eco-building?
Would the philosophy of fostering pride and self reliance for developing strong and resilient communities to withstand the next disaster themselves, bear fruit? This was the dream of the Heritage Foundation (HF) colleagues and dedicated student volunteers who had worked hard over several months.
By mid-2012, the teams had reason to feel gratified. Almost 60 houses in the village along with another 100 shelters for the most vulnerable groups in surrounding villages had been completed. In June, the villagers played host to HF’s eco-construction training sessions, conducted for the Implementation Partners (IPs) of IOM (the International Organisation for Migration) to build 7,500 DFID-funded (UKAid) shelters.
At this time the spirit for achieving self reliance was manifest among another 100 households in Mohak Sharif village. Using their own resources and labour, they had completed their strong lime stabilised adobe/taubateen walls.
These walls, embellished with lime stucco patterns, exhibited their pride in their handiwork, also conveying to us that they needed the KaravanRoof joists to complete their houses. Today, all the households in the village have a shelter with strong walls and strong accessible bamboo roofs that can provide refuge to 15 persons during a flood.
The Karavan EcoVillage has much to be proud of. In addition to almost 200 housing units with a zero carbon footprint (with another 100 in surrounding villages), other community structures showing sustainable construction techniques have also been built due to help from the Tides Foundation and contribution of innumerable generous friends. The green training centre is providing courses in eco-building and conducting workshops for artisans and villagers. The newly built circular community centre on stilts is being readied as a chai khana (teashop) for visitors, the stilts area on the ground is being used to display crafts.
The green chaura (with an improved conical thatched roof) of Thar, with adobe/taubateen walls on a high platform is a women’s skills-literacy centre. One side of the village square is lined with a long demonstration section where different stages of eco-construction can be studied.
The elevated earthen/taubateen platform built nearby to store fodder during a flood is regularly used by children as a performance stage – being a cultural node during normal times. The once stark village square is now planted with a gift of a dozen 10-inch tall neem trees. It is being further greened with more neem saplings and the beginnings of permaculture climbing vines of vegetables and flowers.
Among the most important components of the EcoVillage is the initiation of the eco-toilets program and the introduction of HF’s SwissPakistan filters for safe drinking water. In a region where open defecation is rampant, resulting in high rates of child mortality, eco-toilets provide a hygienic facility, as well as compost for growing organic food.
The picturesque round suites on stilts with conical thatched roofs, in the midst of a guava orchard, complete with eco-bathrooms are being readied with solar lights and fans for visitors who wish to stay overnight. It is part of HF’s village hospitality program, and is among a number of entrepreneurial ventures that are being set up as livelihood activities for villagers, particularly women.
After Eid, the first Karavan EcoVillage is readying itself to host many visitors from within the country and abroad - some expected from as far away as South Africa and Bangladesh.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2012.