As I was exploring possible summer internship positions, a professional colleague suggested that I meet with Mark Reiner, President of Birambye International (BI). I found Mark’s work to be so impressive that I wanted to share it with a wider audience. Mark is an extraordinary person who commits his time, energy and money in alignment with his values (truly a triple bottom line individual). Mark founded BI, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3), to help communities in need reach economic self-sufficiency without sacrificing culture or the environment. Mark’s vision is to create sustainable projects that can be maintained by locals after volunteers have left.
BI is currently planning the “Birambye Lodge” (“Birambye” is Kinyarwandan for “Sustainability”), to be built in the Western Province of Rwanda. Conceptual plans have been developed for the Lodge to be constructed on the shore of Lake Kivu, adjacent to the Children’s Village Kigarama (CVK) orphanage, one of BI’s partners. Revenue from the lodge’s business will support its operation and maintenance, with a portion also committed to funding education and sanitation for the orphans at CVK. Having this additional support will provide CVK important funding to supplement the donations on which it currently relies, while also offering vocational training for orphans – something that has not been done in the past. Furthermore, the lodge will be constructed using an approach that is expected to make it the first US Green Building Council’s LEED Platinum structure in Africa.
One of the reasons the Lodge expects to achieve LEED Platinum certification is because of thin-shell concrete roofing technology. Thin-concrete was developed by two of BI’s members, Drs. Al Knott and George Nez. BI’s major innovation for the lodge is substituting muslin (finely-woven cotton fabric) and chicken wire for the mosquito screens previously used in the construction process. The muslin and chicken wire add crucial tensile strength not found in mosquito screens, which are typically made out of cheap plastic in many developing nations.
In September 2008, Mark led an eight-day workshop at CVK in Rwanda to teach 12 local contractors how to build thin-shell concrete roofing in preparation for project construction. During the workshop, contractors replaced an old enclosed wood-fire kitchen with a well-ventilated kitchen that includes a common area for the CVK children to share meals. If you happen to live in the Denver, Colorado, area and want to see thin-shell concrete in action, check out a full-scale model (16′ x 16′ x 10′ high) at 3943 Zuni Street in North Denver .
At this point, conceptual plans are complete for the lodge, BI has perfected the thin-shell concrete roofing technology, and the CVK orphanage is hungry for additional support. So what is the problem? Simply put, money, and not very much money at that. The Birambye Lodge can be built for a total construction cost of $150,000, including labor and materials. The required land has been donated by the local District. For a mere $150,000 orphans can be fed, the environment enhanced and Africa’s first LEED Platinum structure built. Does anyone have suggestions on how to raise the money for Birambye International in these tough economic times so construction can begin?
To find out more about Birambye International or to make a donation please visit http://www.birambye.org.
Brett Howell is an MBA student at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He is focusing on sustainable real estate and hopes to pursue a career in sustainable resort development. You can contact him at Brett.W.Howell@Colorado.Edu.