Building Sustainably in Uganda

Our grandfathers, who lived many years ago, used the materials that were readily available on their pieces of land in order to build the houses in which they lived with their families, without spending much money to build them. (Or, I can say they did not have much money to spend on building houses, so they had to use what they had.) Such materials they had on their land included: thatch (grass, especially spear grass), poles and sticks, reeds, banana fibers or sisal, bamboo, soil and water for making mud, and sometimes cow dung. If this material list was available, then one could be in position to build a house for his family.

When modernization came, new and various methods of building were introduced involving the use of hardware materials such as tin sheets, nails, cement, and all sorts of metals. These items are expensive because most of them are imported from other countries. Even so, the new building methods subdued the traditional way of building and as a result, people started looking at the traditional way of using local building materials as low-status building. Those who used such materials were seen as not as “advanced” or well-off as others, a judgment that overlooks the benefits of using local materials, like cost-effectiveness, availability, eco-friendliness, and more.

Many people who have adopted the use of these new building materials are subject to prices regulated by an inconsistent human economy. In most of Uganda, they end up failing to finish their homes or taking so long (decades sometimes) to do so. For those, like myself, who have realized the benefits of using local building materials, we find the materials available at a lower cost, because they come from God’s economy. We are able to sleep in finished homes, built at the lowest possible cost in the shortest period of time.

This (future) thatch-roofed gazebo will be a processing facility for the fruits and vegetables grown on our land. 

This is our original thatch-roofed gazebo. It is utilized for meetings and classes of all kinds, worship times and more. It is one of the most utilized structures on our entire property. 

Our two most recent structures were roofed with thatch. Though this is used in “traditional” Ugandan building, it is typically now only used for decoration in tourist settings. We have created a public meeting space with a thatched roof. It is the most used structure on our whole land. We have bible studies in it, Institute courses, music practice, community meetings and large group meals. The second one is being built to be used as a processing station for our garden, where we can prepare seeds and harvest produce. It is also working out very well.

Though some people look down at us for using thatch, I will say, the materials are cheap and locally obtainable. I am able to organize local semi-skilled laborers to complete the work, cutting down costs. It takes less time to finish these projects, compared to anytime we use tin or other hardware materials. Thatched roofs provide shade which keeps us cool, even in the hot hours of the day (no need for an air conditioner). Every three years, thatch can be replaced. The old thatch can then be used to mulch crops or to add to compost piles as carbon for our growing garden.

On our organization’s land (G.O.D. Int’l) in East Africa, I have built all of the structures. The thatched-roofed structures are everyone’s most favorite. Even in our homes, we have prioritized using local and affordable materials in order to have houses that are completed, and our families are so glad. So many people here wait for a “dream home” that uses the finest materials, and it will never be completed. But we have learned to build to the size our families need, using the materials God has provided in our part of the world, and to thank him for what he has given--because it really is wonderful! There are so many benefits to using the blessings that God provides, and he is so generous to provide it in such a way that it does not cost much. I wish more people were content with his gifts.

Proverbs 15:16 Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it.

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Francis Lubega
G.O.D. East Africa Cooperative