Volunteers in Africa : Sustainable Architecture Comes to Mali

Peace Corps volunteer and architect Mary Althoff seeks to introduce sustainable architecture to Mali through the design of an eco-friendly schoolhouse in the village of Tongo.

Tongo is a small village located 50 kilometers southeast of Segou in Mali. The population is less than a thousand inhabitants, made up primarily of the Bambara ethnic group. There is no electricity or running water in the area and most families survive on a small income from subsistence farming of millet, corn, and peanuts.

The existing school in Tongo consists of two small classrooms made of sticks and leaves. Since there are only two rooms, first and second grade students attend in the morning while third and forth grade students attend in the afternoon. There is no fifth or sixth grade class, class, making it nearly impossible for students to complete the full first cycle, and continue on with their education.

The construction of a new 6-room schoolhouse will give students, for the first time, the opportunity to move on to second cycle, high school, and university.

The design of the new building emphasizes the use of locally available materials, local knowledge systems, and community involvement in all stages of the project.

Compressed earth bricks, a technology that is found throughout West Africa but has yet to gain popularity in Mali, will be used in the construction of the school. The project will ultimately be used as a training program to support the advancement of this technology in subsequent building projects in Mali.

The building's roof is raised up to allow for cross-ventilation and will be covered with corrugated aluminum, sloped to allow for rainwater harvesting and collection. Large overhangs will provide shade, keeping the building cool throughout the day.

Focus on local materials instead of expensive imported cement will greatly reduce the environmental impact of the school's construction, while the introduction of rainwater harvesting to the area will help fill the desperate need for water during the lengthy dry season

The scope of construction includes a 6-classroom school building, two large tanks for rainwater storage, a children's garden, and four outdoor composting latrines.. This project is being funded by charitable donations through the Peace Corps Partnership Program.