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Handing Over Better Housing Solutions For Underprivileged Areas

9 August, 2016
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With a blend of social service, environmental stewardship and architecture, a woman with a vision has started Hand Over, a social enterprise to benefit neglected aspects of Egypt's built environment.

Radwa Rostom's vision is to create sustainable housing solutions from low-cost materials using innovative techniques, in the name of helping to develop marginalized communities. Through Hand Over, her bigger vision is to create a comprehensive community development approach.

The name 'Hand Over' comes from the philosophy of collaborating with other specialized entities in different fields and ensuring that ordinary people have a say in their built environment. "We believe that every entity should hand over its achievements to the other so that the picture is complete," Rostom said in her talk at TEDxGUC last Saturday. 

Hand Over unites and empowers a group of committed graduate and undergraduate civil engineers and architects. The enterprise's process starts at the recruitment of these fresh architects, who are then enrolled into workshops teaching and training them, starting from team building to sustainable design.

"The urgency of what we do is that it genuinely comes from the local residents; we sit down and ask about what they need and what they’re suffering from and act on it accordingly," Rostom explained.

In one project, they worked in an area called Ezbet Abou Qarn. Here, they sat down with one of the residents and listened as they voiced their complaints and concerns. The residents were worried about the collapsing ceiling and the cracks everywhere. So the architects started rebuilding the walls with an ancient technique called 'rammed earth'; in which sand, rubble and mud are used as main components to build one wall at a time without having to build it brick by brick.

"Our goal was to leave a sample for a house built with the raw material of earth, so that the community would start getting acquainted to it," Rostom said. "We also used this technique to introduce this solution to Egyptian construction as well as train our architects with it to make them familiar with new techniques."

For other projects, Hand Over have banded with the Egyptian chapter of Open Architecture Collaborative, part of a global network of architects delivering design advocacy, facilitation, assessment and small build services to local marginalized communities. The project "Forgotten Spaces," aims to revive dead zones in unplanned communities. The partnership - Open Architecture Collective's first venture in Egypt - began at a small town in the outskirts of the Egyptian capital called Stabl Antar.

"We also went and sat down with the residents to find out what they needed changed in their community and lifestyles," she said. They accordingly worked on designing and constructing a playground area for the children of Stabl Antar.

Hand Over is currently working in St Catherine, Sinai, with an initiative called "Catherine Exists," that aims at developing the area for the under-served Bedouins living there.

"The place has no hospitals and the nearest school is several kilometers away," Rostom said. After finding out what the residents really needed, they started a Facebook event to gather interested architects and civil engineers to volunteer and work with them in building a sustainable community center that would provide them with medical care as well as educational resources. The enterprise will start implementing this project on the ground in the next couple of months.

Another project Hand Over is working on is a refugee area in Lebanon. Five months ago they partnered with a Lebanese partner enterprise that shared the same vision, and worked on designing and building a sustainable shelter for the refugees in Lebanon.

Hand Over is still a start-up; one of the solutions they are considering in order to sustain themselves financially is to get a micro-funding institute to collaborate with them.

Rostom believes that architecture and construction companies in Egypt should strike a balance between the welfare of their businesses and the local environment.  "They should also perform their social responsibility activities according to their field; they should volunteer in projects related to their architectural or engineering visions."

Image courtesy of Radwa Rostom

Tags MENA Because social enterprise NGO CSR volunteering Radwa Rostom TEDxGUC urbanism architecture community centred design