Parween Rehman’s Revolutionary Resolve

<Mourning the Loss of Parween Rehman

**Cross-posted from The News International**

By Rabia Ezdi 

Rahman had a capacity to pick up on the potential of people, and believe in them until they had no choice but to believe in themselves.”

It is a natural human instinct to celebrate those that leave us. But a tribute to Perween Rahman is like sharing some of the stuff that real legends are made of. Not the people of big awards and media coverage, but those that make change on the ground while shunning publicity; the true heroes of Pakistan.

I first met Perween eleven years ago. After being disillusioned by the role of mainstream architects in making the kind of change that was needed in our cities, I had decided to plunge into the NGO sector. The replication of the OPP (Orangi Pilot Project) model in Punjab had begun, adding to its recognition as a development alternative with much promise. I expected Perween to be the proverbial ‘NGO-type’: scary, aggressive, intimidating. She was none of these. With a warm smile, a chirpy voice, and a kind demeanour, she welcomed me to the OPP-RTI (Orangi Pilot Project-Research and Training Institute) and told me that I should spend the first two weeks just trying to understand the work of the organisation.

OPP was at the time and still is, running on the momentum of Dr Akhtar Hamid Khan’s teachings; simplicity, frugality, and the ideals of love and humanity. Two of the first of Dr Sahib’s axioms I was told I must remember were: “I made a mistake”, and “I have not understood”. Being used to an academic and professional world where flaunting one’s knowledge, talking more than listening, and proving one’s point often in heavy jargon, were characteristic of ‘strong’ professionals — this new ethos was most liberating, and one of the things that made me fall instantly for the OPP’s development philosophy.

Anyone interested in being a part of this most beautiful process of true, rooted change, could just sit back, listen, observe, and internalise when ready. There was no room for ego. Also, where mainstream development work is about ‘doing’ for the poor, this was about learning from the poor, and supporting their initiatives with whatever know-how is appropriate, from technical input, to maps and training. It was the self-help model, committed to bringing human dignity back into the formula of helping the poor help themselves.

It was this that I learnt most from Perween and those at OPP: working for ‘real’ development is, more than anything else, a spiritual discipline.

On the operational side of the organisation, there was the weekly Monday meeting. In appearance just a tedious reporting of the week’s progress by every OPP-RTI team member including Perween herself, in reality it is an exceptional tool for accountability, transparency, and inclusive decision-making. It was the platform for debate, disagreement, acknowledgement of failures, and a celebration of small and big successes.

In work ethic, Perween was a disciplinarian and this had trickled down to all members of the institution. Work was the temple, the worship; there was no compromise. While she was gentle, she was as firm and upright as the trunk of an oak tree. The OPP-RTI research objective was clear: advocacy for the poor. The methodology was simple — interview, mapping, writing, and dissemination.

And then there was Perween’s insistence on using the right words; “It is the terms we use that shape our biases towards the poor,” she would say. Perween was not opposed to the city’s ‘mafias’ any more than she was saddened by the government’s indifference in solving the problems of the poor. She had come to realise that the term ‘mafia’ is misleading; in a system that is not fair by its very nature, and where the majority has no choice but to fend for themselves, a ‘mafia’ was simply an opportunist’s response in a crisis.

The word ‘katchi abadi’ she would say, leads to an automatic anti-poor prejudice. It was merely ‘People’s Housing’, “They are people who have found no alternative and this reflects the failure of the government to absorb them”. And ‘informal settlements’? Perween had concluded that there is no such thing; it was simply that which was ‘unofficial’ planning, unofficially supplied services, and unofficial systems, versus what was ‘officially’ done and recognised. And it was these ‘unofficial’ systems that existed often in collusion with the government, and supported the lives of 70 per cent of the city’s population, hence the need to recognise and understand them.

Perween was high on life. Along with countless people from community-based organisations in Sindh and Punjab, we travelled across the country several times a year, trying to understand and support poor peoples’ initiatives. Travel was not just business; while the tone was always jovial, it was above all an opportunity to make connections and give people hope. It is this people-building that was the real and lasting investment. Perween had a capacity to pick up on the potential of people, and believe in them until they had no choice but to believe in themselves. She would instil idealism, humane values, and a work ethic without overtly ‘preaching’. She was that rare combination of mentor and friend.

Perween was not the change itself, she was one of change’s most potent agents — the faith of change, the brain behind change. In her inside-out understanding of the city’s ways, and in the networks and relationships with government and communities that she had forged over the years, Perween had crystallised a movement of sorts, where the marginalised were shown ways in which they would really no longer be the city’s ‘Citizen X’. And it is always the true change-makers of the world that shake the hold of those who live only to maintain a ruthless status quo.

Many theories abound about who would want to so heinously rob this gentle soul of her life, this soul that couldn’t hurt an ant. The truth is simply that in the years since she first joined OPP, Perween had quietly grown and come to a point where she could move mountains. The OPP’s ground-breaking low-cost sanitation model, and the upgrading of housing in Orangi, were the primers. The Karachi master plan for the conversion of Karachi’s open nallahs into box culverts was achieved through an arduous process of lobbying with the KWSB. Research into the truth about Karachi’s water crisis, and unearthing water ‘thefts’ was geared by the OPP.

The 2006 floods in Karachi and their connection with the choking of Karachi’s storm-water nallahs due to encroachments by government and private interests alike, was investigated by the OPP. And now the Secure Housing Initiative, wherein it was discovered that pre-partition villages or Goths in Karachi’s peripheral areas, were being evicted by political interests in order to create new constituencies for political parties. Where the government’s figures recognised these goths to be 400 in number, through research the OPP-RTI discovered that there were more than 2000. The OPP-RTI had entered into a process of mapping these goths, and supporting goth dwellers to advocate for land title.

In 2010, these maps helped convince the government to issue land titles to over half of those communities. Now, by 2013, more land titles were on their way. “The maps did it. Maps help to build relationships,” she would say, “The maps tell us what to do, where to go, who to lobby. They help professionals to understand the reality and have the courage to accept it. They help government to understand the reality and accept it too, because they are no longer the only ones that have that information. The people have this information now, and the NGOs and media have it too.” Most of these maps of the goth settlements have now been accepted as official government maps. “It is the community youth who actually do the mapping. We only help train them, and then take a back seat, become invisible.”

Despite negativity and despair all around, with the youthful spirit of a sixteen-year-old, Perween never stopped being an incurable optimist.

In a presentation she made in Bangkok in February at a meeting of community-based organisations from Asia, Perween’s words are the only solace one finds in the midst of this painful turn of events: “Today Karachi is in flames, and one of the aspects of the violence in the city is the politics of land and who gets title to it. Getting land title for these goth settlers, who have lived there since long before partition in 1947, has been a very powerful step forward for the peace and the political balance of Karachi. We were just saying amongst ourselves that if we die today, we will die so happily, because we have done it.”

This was Perween Rahman. With the childlike vivacity of a fluttering bird, the resolve of a revolutionary, and the magnanimity of a sage, this gentle soul had helped to change the map of Karachi.


SDI Mourns Colleague & Mentor Parween Rehman

Mourning the Loss of Parween Rehman

SDI was deeply shocked to learn of the murder of colleague and mentor Parween Rehman, director of the Orangi PIlot Project in Karachi Pakistan, in what appeared to be a targeted attack on Wednesday.

The murder has been covered by various news sources. National Public Radio reporter Steve Inskeep, who spent quite a bit of time with Parween in Karachi while writing his book Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi shared the following remembrance of Parweeen on Thursday. 

Upon learning of this tragedy, our partners at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) shared the following: 

“Perween was director of the Orangi Pilot Project Research and Training Institute, a Karachi-based NGO that works with the city’s poorest communities to improve their neighbourhoods. She was an architect-turned activist who devoted her life to improving the lives of people in Karachi’s poorest neighbourhoods. Since the 1980s, the Orangi Pilot Project has provided thousands of people with improved water, sanitation and housing. The project is famous worldwide for both its success and its distinctive approach.

Perween was murdered by masked men who shot at her car as she travelled home from work on the afternoon of 13 March. Recently she had had been documenting land-use around Karachi, and this may have antagonised the city’s powerful land-grabbing criminals.

IIED researchers who have long worked with Perween have described her today as: “A very, very remarkable person and a wonderful friend, colleague and teacher.” (Dr David Satterthwaite), and: “A brilliant, beautiful and principled person” (Dr Gordon McGranahan). IIED’s thoughts are with Perween’s family and friends and with everyone at the Orangi Pilot Project at this most difficult of times.” 

In reflecting on Parween’s life and work, Dr. Diana Mitlin shared the following: 

“…I last saw her just two weeks ago at a meeting of the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights in Bangkok. She had brought a team of six or seven community leaders from Pakistan to share their work on planning and mapping the land around Karachi, and the contribution of young people to Pakistan’s future. 

She spoke with such excitement about the savings groups they had recently formed and the ways in which they were making women see new opportunities and have a new energy and creativity. She also talked about the power of the network they had established across Pakistan – many community organizations now able to manage their own sanitation programmes – and the network coming together each quarter to share experiences, problems, success.

We also discussed a forthcoming visit she was willing to make to Uganda and Malawi to support improved sanitation strategies there. Because despite all I have written here about knowledge and power and land, Perween was a sanitation expert with an incredible skill to think through options and opportunities. 

She believed both in the essential contribution of expert professionals to improve infrastructure systems (designs, operational realities) – and the equally essential importance of recognising the modest nature of that contribution. She would be the first to say that while professional contribution is significant and important – it needs to be integrated within a broader programme driven by the energy and knowledge of those living in informal settlements.”

We at SDI will honor Parween’s great contribution and dedication by replicating her work throughout the slums in our global network. 

Perween Rahman – Interview from Balazs Gardi on Vimeo.

To read the full post from IIED, please click here

Turning Waste into Profit: Ghana Visits Cape Town’s Recycling Programme

Ghana & SA Waste Management Exchange

By Chantal Hildebrand, SDI Secretariat 

As part of their initiatives to improve the sanitation situation in the slums of Accra, Ghana, a delegation of four members of the Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor (GHAFUP) – Haruna Abu, Janet Abu, Imoro Toyibu and Naa Ayeley – participated in a learning exchange to Cape Town, South Africa to learn more about the waste management initiative underway in the settlements of Cape Town. Painting a picture of the waste and sanitation situation in the slums of Accra, Ghana, Janet Adu, a member of GHAFUP, described the discarded plastic bags and other trash littering the narrow pathways of Ghana’s slum communities, adding to the already poor sanitation situation. To begin addressing this issue, GHAFUP and People’s Dialogue Ghana began brainstorming about waste management programmes that will clean up the slums while simultaneously generating income for the Federation.

The Blue Sky Solid Waste Management Company is the business side of the waste-management facilities. The initiative operates out of the offices of Sizakuyenza, a small community based NGO that originated from the FEDUP health network’s cleaning programme. Starting as a small initiative, with volunteer slum dwellers sorting waste for a small income, the initiative has grown into a completely self-sustaining programme with about 400 volunteer community trash collectors, or waste pickers, from various informal settlements across Cape Town who sort through waste to collect recyclables.

The sorted waste is then collected through the initiative’s mobile buy-back programme in which two pickup trucks manned Blue Sky drivers pick up the collected waste from various settlements around Cape Town, paying the pickers cash upon pickup for their recyclables. After another sorting at the Blue Sky Solid Waste Management facilities, the waste is sold to buyers and recycling companies.  Using the profits made from these business transactions, the Blue Sky Solid Waste Management programme pays the pickers for their trash collection, salaries for the workers that run the company while also revolving the remaining profits back into the programme to sustain it and maintain its facilities. 

Over the two-day exchange, the Ghana delegates focused their attention on the business side of the Blue Sky Solid Waste Management programme: observing the market opportunities in waste collection and recycling, meeting with local pickers in the Bengali community, learning waste sorting techniques and how to build relationships with recycling companies. The days were split into two sections: 1) interactions with the buyers and learning the market and 2) interacting with the pickers and how this activity has helped slum communities around Cape Town.

Day 1:

Day one of the visit fell on the day Blue Sky Solid Waste Management meets with buyers to sell the recyclable material that the pickers collected throughout the week, giving the Ghanaians an opportunity to learn the values of various recyclable goods. As explained by Mr. John Mckerry, team leader at Blue Sky, certain companies are looking for certain types of waste, which is why it is so important to look at the market opportunities in your city before beginning a recycling program. This way the federation can be well informed on what types of materials companies are looking for in order to generate the most income. 

Ghana & SA Waste Management Exchange

Following a lively discussion inside, Mr. Mckerry and Mr. Gershwin Kohler, the project consultant for the Blue Sky Solid Waste Management programme took the group on a quick tour of the Blue Sky Solid Waste Management facilities. They described the structure of staff and participants in the programme and identified the various types of waste collected and how it is sorted and its value (per kilo).

After the tour, the Ghana delegates joined Mr. Mckerry, Mr. Kohler and two of the of the Sky Blue waste collectors. Together the group visited waste companies such as S.A.B.S., where the Blue Sky staff negotiated and sold the collected and sorted waste. Through these interactions, the delegates were able to witness the market opportunities for recyclable goods in South Africa and compare these prices to the Ghana values.

Ghana & SA Waste Management Exchange

Mr. Gershwin Kohler discusses the value of glass recyclables. 

Day 2:

Waking bright and early on a Saturday morning, the delegation met with the Bengali community where community pickers had begun the work of collecting and sorting waste. As explained by Mr. Kohler the day before, “their job is to collect garbage and they focus on what they want to collect.” Some participate in the programme once in a while to generate some extra income for themselves and their families; for others this is a full time job, picking and sorting daily in order to make as much profit as possible. Furthermore, there are some people who choose to only collect one or two types of waste (e.g. plastic bottles and newspaper), while others collect and sort whatever types of waste they know Blue Sky might be interested in. When the sun has reached its highest point the pickers’ day of work is complete, though there are some dedicated individuals who will continue through the afternoon.

Upon collection by the mobile buy-back truck, the pickers’ collections are weighed separately to determine payment  – paid by the kilo for paper, crushed glass, cardboard, plastics, etc. or paid by each whole plastic or glass bottle collected. Pickers are informed of the different rates for each type of waste collected and the importance of sorting waste before collection. Each individual’s collection is recorded to maintain accurate data collection and minimize conflict between people. Pickers are then paid for their collection, no matter how little or big the amount collected.  

Ghana & SA Waste Management Exchange

Mr. John McKerry describes the process of collecting, sorting and selling recyclables. 

Providing a job opportunity within the slums of Cape Town, the waste management programme motivates people to participate as pickers to sustain their livelihoods; however, this programme has also helped clean up the slums, creating a cleaner and healthier community environment. Simply put by Mr. Kohler, “[slum communities] become reverse supplier of raw materials.”

Throughout the exchange, the Ghana delegates brainstormed the aspects of the Blue Sky programme that would be applicable to their planned project in Ghana. This is not the first waste management programme for GHAFUP. Having started a waste project in Old Fadama, the largest slum in Accra, the Ghana federation has already begun to address the slum’s sanitation and waste issues. Thinking on a larger scale, GHAFUP began planning how to scale up the project in Old Fadama and create an income generating aspect of the programme in order to sustain the project and add to the general funds of the federation.

Using the lessons learned from the Blue Skye Solid Waste Management programme in Cape Town, the Ghana delegates took ideas from the process used in Cape Town to adapt to their situation in Accra. As stated by the team in their exchange report, “the system of waste management [in Cape Town] is different from Ghana because they buy the waste from the household/pickers.” 

The Cape Town programme’s mission is to mobilise slum communities around recycling and waste collection, demonstrating the benefits of clean communities and how participating in this programme can help generate income for individuals/families.

According to the delegation, GHAFUP is planning to manage and run the solid waste management programme as a service for slum communities in Accra, where federation members act as pickers, from the picking and waste collection to building relationships and selling to recycling companies in the Accra area so as to generate income and sustain the project.  The funds from this project can also help finance some of the federation’s other activities if possible.

Following Mr. Kohler’s advice to “start in your on house”, the Ghana delegates plan to begin the project amongst themselves. Collecting, sorting and recycling materials in their own households, GHAFUP will begin mobilising and educating other slum dwellers around recycling and waste management. While doing this, GHAFUP members will begin researching the recycling industry in Ghana; identifying the waste that has a market – keeping in mind that the market values will fluctuate – and beginning to build relationships with potential buyers. However, the main outcome highlighted by the Ghana team was that the exchange “encouraged [GHAFUP] to act as a community on waste management,” which is the main lesson the Ghana delegates plan to share with their fellow slum dwellers in Ghana.


In Tanzania, Scaling Up Sanitation for the Urban Poor

Water & Sanitation in Tanzania

By Noah Schermbrucker, SDI Secretariat

The improvement of sanitation in urban informal settlements in Africa is one of the key upgrading strategies that can make a tangible difference in poor communities. Through a joint action research project titled SHARE (Sanitation and Hygiene Applied Research for Equity) communities in Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia are using the SDI rituals of community-driven enumerations, profiling and mapping to outline the obstacles to achieving pro-poor citywide sanitation. The next phase of the project calls on the countries to build precedent setting pilot projects based on the information collected.

At a recent meeting in Tanzania each country reflected on progress made and the way forward. Discussions and presentations focused on how to use the information gathered (situational analysis) to generate political momentum, leverage resources, forge partnerships, create awareness and go to scale. Discussions were complemented by a visit to Keko Machungwa informal settlement to see latrines built by the Tanzanian federation and to Chamasi housing project where the group saw a constructed wetland, built to treat wastewater. A team from Uganda with experience in building and managing communal toilet facilities was also present throughout the 3-day meeting and significantly added to the discussions.

As the precedent setting phase of the project starts in earnest, federation members also discussed the key challenges as outlined by the situational analyses. This blog focuses on extracts from two presentations given by the Tanzanian federation – one about the research conducted and the second about likely precedents to address the challenges identified in the research phase. It is hoped that these details will give the reader a flavor of the challenges federations face in providing pro-poor sanitation at scale and the incremental steps employed to tackle these complexities.

Dar-es-Salaam: Sanitation Situational Analysis


Water & Sanitation in Tanzania

Dar-es-Salaam has a current approximate population of 4 million which is growing by 8% P.A.

  • 70%-80% live in informal settlements and the city is split into 3 municipalities.
  • The sewerage network covers only 10% of the city while the coverage of pit latrines is 98%.
  • The absence of a sanitation policy has led to the lack of guidance to role-players in the sector. A draft policy is currently being developed.
  • Little emphasis on sanitation & hygiene at the local level. 

Research and Findings: 

The Tanzanian federation undertook a surveying and mapping exercise of sanitation conditions in existing settlements. While pit latrine coverage was high, the conditions of many toilets was extremely poor. Some key findings included:

  • The main type of toilet used is the traditional pit latrine, which are normally poorly constructed, have poor super structure and cracking walls that affect stability. Four cases were noted during the study where people drowned in the latrines’ pits.
  • Lack of finances to improve the latrines also emerged as a key issue. This is compounded when negotiating the delicate relationship between landlords and tenants.
  • Pit emptying also emerged as a major challenge. Access to latrines is difficult because of the layout of informal settlements. Costs are also significant and existing practices have associated health and environmental impacts. 

Water & Sanitation in TanzaniaWater & Sanitation in Tanzania

Pit emptying can be dangerous and unhygienic. 

GIS was used to map the toilet type and location within informal settlements such as Keko Machungwa. The mapping process was done with the assistance of the community and local officials. 

Toilets presented in the map:

Water & Sanitation in Tanzania

  • Eco-San:  2
  • Pour Flush: 336
  • Septic Tank: 37
  • Traditional pit Latrines: 496
  • Tire pit latrines: 5
  • Piped to stream: 3
  • No toilet: 23

Dissemination and outputs for the Tanzanian federation:

  • The Federation has been able to understand the latrine situation in selected informal settlements in Dar es Salaam city.
  • Skills acquisition to federation members with regards to data collection skills, numbering, use of computer and cameras and GPS devices.
  • Relationships developed with communities and government officials at the street, ward and municipal level.
  • Implement alternative methods of pit emptying (gulper).

From the above extracts the reader should have a sense of some of the challenges that the Tanzanian federation faces. Even though there is a relatively high coverage of latrines, they are in a very poor condition and emptying them is costly and difficult.

The second presentation given by the Tanzanian team outlines some of the precedents they will use to address the above challenges.

Precedent Identification Process: 

Water & Sanitation in Tanzania

Discussion was done with federation members and they identified precedents based on situational analysis results:

  • Establishment of Sanitation Centers as a means for sanitation improvement and going to scale.
  • Introduce viable pit emptying mechanisms such as the “Gulper”
  • Train latrine construction technicians
  • Construction of shared latrines and promotion of accepted technologies
  • Construction of shared septic tanks

Discussion Meeting with Local Government Authority:

Meetings took place between local government authorities and the federation members in order to discuss the results and identify the precedents:

  • Establishing sanitation centers
  • Construction of shared septic tanks and DEWATS (Decentralized Waste Treatment Systems) 
  • Law enforcement for negligent landlords

Sanitation Centers:

    Screen Shot 2013-03-07 at 4.14.24 PM

  • Management of the sanitation center will be by the community including the Federation, Community Health Committees and other key actors. 
  • Actors involved in the management would consider the interests of various groups including tenants and owners (negotiating this relationship)
  • Interventions should aim to meet needs of different people.

How precedents will facilitate scaling up:

  • Sanitation centers will be a focal point for community action and organization 
  • The center will provide co-production opportunities by linking federation initiatives with other stakeholders
  • Strengthen community and government relations by linking with ward level government in a manner that will provide an opportunity for local government to participate.
  • Different models of payment for services like installment payment and co-payment between structure owners and tenants
  • Sanitation mapping to understand land ownership arrangements and how it affects sanitation improvement
  • Explore land availability for communal septic tanks, DEWATS and wetland systems, systems which would accommodate many people within settlements
  • Link with other departments and institutions for expertise and resource mobilization (water utility, drilling department & academic institutions)

New Affiliate in Burkina Faso Inspired by Visit to Ghana

Burkina Faso & Ghana Exchange Burkina Faso & Ghana Exchange

Part I: A Testimony From Ouagadougou 

By Kotimi Kéré, resident of spontaneous zone “Taabtenga” in Ouagadougou (translation by Chantal Hildebrand, SDI Secretariat)

Burkina Faso & Ghana Exchange

Photo above: Kotimi Kéré, adjoining treasurer of the “Association ‘Id-rayim-taab yeele,” and community member of sector 45 “Taab-Tenga” (a spontaneous zone of in Ouagadougou).

Taking part in the study tour to Ghana from 21-26 January 2013, I got a better understanding of the SDI strategy. It is a matter of mobilizing poor communities to improve their living conditions and be able to influence the actions of decision-makers in the favor of these populations.

Aspects of SDI strategy that arouses the most interest during this exchange included:

  • Mobilising communities around a common project and/or idea;
  • The introduction of savings groups within urban poor communities. People living in slums are a the priority poor. Having faith in an individual project, each community member, to the best of their ability, will put aside a little bit of money everyday to add to their savings book (for example, 2 cedis, 5 cedis, etc.);
  • The possibility of savings group members being able to save enough to support individual projects;
  • The solidarity and team spirit found within the savings groups in terms of supporting each member even if they experience difficulties in repaying a loan;

The main lesson I learned from this trip is the following: 

The modernization of cities is often a process split into two speeds. On the one hand, the institutional principles set by national and local policy makers, and on the other side, the poor settlements in cities who have difficulty fitting into the formal principles. The inclusion and non-marginalization of the urban poor are esstential to the modernization of cities. 

The alternative is to make the urban poor aware of their own abilities to change their destinies. We do not always need to wait for others to do everything for us and lift us out of our misery. Overcoming poverty and improving our lives depend primarily on us. It is necessary to know our prioities to first realise our own progress with patience and self-confidence. Although poor, I can find ways to spare a little of what I earn each day to support projects that benefit my life. The battle for registering poor communities in urban development is based primarily on our abilities to improve our own living conditions. 

From what I have seen and learned, in my opinion it would be selfish to keep it to oneself. I come from a community living in a precarious neighborhood (slum) of Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. In my opinion, I think  the first action to do on my return to my country is to mobilise my own community to change our current living conditions and our lives.  

To read Kotimi Kéré’s testimonial in French, please click here.

Burkina Faso & Ghana Exchange

Photo above of Ouagadougou delegation that participated in the exchange to Ghana: Florent Y. Bakouan (representative from Laboratoire Citeyonnetés), Madeleine Bouda (community member from Taabtenga), Kotimi Kere (community member from Nioko 2) and Franck Kabore (representative from le Coalition Nationale pour L’Habitat). 

Part II: The Way Forward

By Chantal Hildebrand, using “Restitution Ghana report” by Florent Bakouan.

Upon their return to Burkina Faso, the Ouagadougou delegation who participated in the learning exchange to Ghana met to discuss how to implement some of the lessons and tools they learned in the spontaneous zones of Ouagadougou. It was agreed that they would begin by sharing the lessons learned in Ghana with their own communities specifically Nioko 2 and Taabtenga – the two spontaneous zones where Mrs. Bouda and Ms. Kéré live.

Beginning with Nioko 2, a presentation was conducted by Mrs. Bouda reporting her experience on the Ghana exchange and presenting the SDI approach and core rituals. Attended by 150 community members and members of a local women’s group called “Songr Nooma la Zamstaaba” (which Mrs. Bouda is a member), the presentation resulted in a collective interest in implementing some of the SDI approach in the Nioko 2 community. Identifying lack of access to safe drinking water in households as a key issue in the community, the interested residents decided to mobilise the rest of the Nioko 2 community around this priority. The community, with the help of Laboratoire Citeyonnetés and the other individuals who participated in the Ghana exchange, have begun mobilizing community members through the establishment of a savings scheme, with current membership totaling 130 people. Future plans include:

  • Conducting an enumeration of Nioko 2, identifying areas with available drinking water, the number of households without water, those who want water, etc;
  • Conducting a mapping exercise focusing on the current water situation in the community.

Burkina Faso & Ghana Exchange

A meeting in Taabtenga is scheduled for Sunday 10 March 2013. As explained by Mr. Florent Bakouan, a representative from the Laboratoire Citeyonnetés who participated in the Ghana exchange, in Taabtenga, like Nioko 2, “Nous allons partager ce que nous avons appris au Ghana, susciter l’adhésion des habitants à l’approche SDI et envisager avec eux un projet commun pour le réaliser par eux et pour eux.” – English translation: “We will share what we have learned in Ghana, build support from the residents around the SDI approach and consider a joint project with the residents to help facilitate community-run upgrading and work with them on a communal project to realize by them for them.”

He ends by saying, “En conclusion…Nous avons mis l’accent d’abord sur l’adhésion des populations à l’approche SDI, ensuite à leur mobilisation autour d’un projet commun. Nous allons progressivement étape par étape pour avoir plus de chances de réussite.” – English translation: “In conclusion… we focus first on public support around the SDI approach, then their mobilisation around a common project. We are progressing gradually, step by step, to have a better chance of success.”

In Uganda, Partnerships for Upgrading Make Change on the Ground

Arua Municipality TSUPU

by Hellen Nyamweru, ACTogether Uganda 

The partnership between the Federation and local government in Arua municipality has emerged exemplary in the first phase of TSUPU. This is thanks largely to community engagements and actually standing for what the program is based on. TSUPU, meaning Transforming Settlements of the Urban Poor in Uganda, has served its purpose to a great extent in Arua Municipality. 

Arua municipality, located approximately 480 kilometers northwest of Kampala, and the largest city in the district, has demonstrated an impressive understanding as far as TSUPU is concerned. When you find communities informed of all the development programs under TSUPU and having participated in the actual implementation of the same, then you know there has been positive impact on local governance in Arua. For communities to be in possession of all the community upgrading fund projects’ documents for all the transactions involved means there has truly been a transformation and empowerment of settlements of the urban poor. You can actually touch it! And it is exciting to witness this happening. 

In a recent monitoring exercise, communities in Arua and the municipality technocrats clearly showed how meaningful collaborative working relationships can be developed and sustained for the development of Arua. The manner in which issues have taken course in Arua leaves one full of admiration and awe and calling for such powerful collective effort to be replicated elsewhere in the country. Arua municipality and the community have managed to form a web of interconnected efforts that support one another. 

Arua federation is now an active change agent in the municipality, having been awarded monies to take on different projects in the municipality after a successful proposal competition. Through this undertaking the communities have felt valued by the municipality; they are thriving and want to go the extra miles to make their municipality a city. It is now clear that collaboration of different efforts is a sine qua non to development; it cannot be achieved in isolation. 

Generally, the TSUPU project in Arua has contributed greatly to bringing the municipal officials and the communities closer. In the past, communities felt left out in many of the development ventures in Arua, but from a couple of interviews with the different communities and municipal technocrats who gave their account of the TSUPU projects, this initiative has been one of a kind. 

When the community upgrading funds were received in Arua municipality, the news was publicized to raise citizens’ awareness and participation in the utilization and accountability of the fund. Communities started coming up with different projects to undertake and forwarded them to the municipality for approval. The communities in Arua were truly recognized as partners in development and were involved in the selection and planning of the projects. They also participated actively in project implementation, monitoring and evaluation. 

The Community Development Officer Mr.Geoffrey Edema, who was working closely with the secretary to the Municipal Development Forum, Mr. Martin Andama, together subjected the communities’ proposals to technical appraisal so as to clarify any issues, and later invited the same communities to go through the pros and cons of different proposals. After deciding which projects to implement communities received communication from the municipality in writing as to whether their projects’ had gone through the selection phase successfully or otherwise. Those projects whose proposals were successful then received funds for the project in their various accounts. 

The different groups then sourced for contractors to carry out the different projects (with guidance from the municipality) so as to make the whole process as transparent as possible. Several contractors were considered, depending on prior experience and to ensure nobody takes advantage of unsuspecting communities. 

After agreeing on the contractors to carry out the work, communities – with guidance from the municipality – took charge of the process of approving project commencement. A contractor would write directly to a community with a copy to the municipality requesting a particular sum of money to carry out specific tasks, but would not get the funds without inspection of the work already on the ground by the community in charge of the project with the municipal engineer and other technocrats. In this way, the contractor was kept in check and he could not afford to do sub-standard work. 

In case of delays where the contractor felt he was falling behind schedule, he would write to the community with a copy to Arua municipality requesting for an extension of the time given. There was no time for verbal apologies or broken promises as has been common in the past; the process was strict and very transparent. 

In the words of one Abbas Matata, a slum dweller in Arua and a leader in the federation in charge of negotiations and partnership, the TSUPU projects in the first phase gave communities the sense of being part and parcel of their own development. ‘When you hear us roaring, don’t just wonder, now you know, we felt so much in charge of these projects. we were like people working in those offices we once feared before and just putting down our signatures to approve the millions of funds in our accounts for the projects felt so good, we felt empowered’’ . 

Of the six projects implemented in Arua under TSUPU, five are complete and are already serving the communities in the municipality. They have registered positive impacts and they have become the talk of the municipality. What is left is to have a Memorandum of Understanding put in place between the municipality and the communities, especially those that are directly linked to a community (such as the water projects) to ensure the projects are kept in the hands of communities for sustainability and replication of the same in other needy areas. By ‘sustainability’ the federation means to ensure that the project is maintained in good condition: for example that the water bills are paid in time to avoid disconnection and the collection area kept clean to ensure water is clean at all times. His Worship, the Mayor of Arua, Charles Asiki and the Deputy Mayor Kalsum Abdu have assured the federation of their support in this regard, as well as in other upcoming activities for the development of Arua city. 

Below are the projects in detail: 

 Arua Municipality TSUPU




The project involved the fencing of a public primary school, Bibia Primary School, which serves as an educational facility for the children of Pangisha ward and the neighbouring parish Mvara. Before the fencing, the school was in such a state that every person would trespass onto the school premises and the children would not concentrate because of this kind of interruption. The school property was also vandalized; for instance, school doors and windows would go missing from time to time. The school sanitation facilities were always in a mess because they were used by the general public. The school land would get encroached from time to time and there were disputes over this. The school’s performance was low and absenteeism was high because children could come and go as they pleased. Parents and guardians could not monitor them and some would join dangerous groups due to peer pressure in the pretext of attending school. 

Alioderuku Mixed savings group, a group in Oluod cell made up of 30 members (22 women and 8 men) wrote the proposal to have the school fenced because of the aforementioned issues. Most of the members in this group are widows and have children and grandchildren in the school and they wanted to correct the state of affairs. 

Since the fencing of the school, many positive impacts have been registered: children are now kept in school and they can be monitored by their parents and teachers. The school’s performance has also gone up and it is now taking in more pupils than before. The school’s property is now protected and there are no more disputes over the school’s land. What exists now in the area is peace and a good learning environment to study so as to make responsible persons of Uganda’s future leaders. The project shows that the federation recognizes education as a key element to development. The project has meant greater exposure for federation practices in Arua and people are very aware of the works of the federation, with many having joined after seeing such tangible evidence coming right into their community. They have been introduced to the federation rituals of saving and are doing just that to ensure they are change agents in Arua municipality. 

The group continues to save and have a total of UGX 3,500,000 in daily savings and have loaned UGX 3,000,000. They have an excellent loaning system with a strict loan officer – an elderly lady called Alupo, also nicknamed ‘catechist ‘because of her strict nature and emphasis on adherence of loan repayment. Their urban poor basket has UGX 355,000. They have several projects such as poultry farming, confectionery, and tailoring and they are also traders of honey from the Congo-Uganda and Sudan-Uganda border. According to the chairperson of the group, Chandiru Esther, the members are thinking of writing a skills development proposal to try and see if they could benefit from the 2nd phase of TSUPU by getting some funds to assist in skill development so as to continue uplifting themselves. 




This project involved the construction of a foot bridge connecting several areas in the municipality; Pajulu-Prison, Adiko cells and Bazaar and Mutu cells. The project came in place due to bad experiences the community had as a result of flooding. Arua generally has hot and dry climate but it has some rainy seasons when the region experiences heavy rains that sometimes cause floods and affect many households. The culvert bridge was constructed to guard against such an occurrence because it will divert the water to appropriate channels. In the past, such floods would mean no business between the neighbouring counties during the rains, it would also cause death of young children and animals who would be carried away by the waters of Afra. The bridge therefore would serve as a remedy for this. 

The bridge is now in place and has addressed these needs. The residents are no longer afraid of the wet rainy season; they know things will be different this time around. It has also reduced the distance between the neighbouring cells. Nowadays, residents do not have to trek long distances or go through another cell to access the neighbouring one. It is now simple. School children are also enjoying the facility; in the past they would cover long distances to and from school, leaving little time to study. Business is now booming, keeping in mind that Arua people are very enterprising and hardworking with a big number of immigrants from Congo and Sudan. It is clear that this town is growing at a very fast pace. 

Afra B savings group, the group responsible for bringing the project into the locality, have all the documents concerning the project and actively participated in its implementation. At one time there was a delay in completing as the project specified and the contractor had to formally write to the group requesting a grace period. This shows the strictness observed in this project and the communities now feel very valued in the whole process. Mzee Khamisi Marjan had this to say, ‘I could not believe the contractor writing to us apologizing for not completing in time but committing himself to finishing over a specified period, this was unheard of, we have never heard of this! we felt respected for that,. I am an old man and I tell you I have witnessed it projects left incomplete by contractors who knew nobody would do anything to them. But in our case, it was different, we knew we mattered’

Arua Municipality TSUPU




This project involved the provision of water in the locality of Nsambia in order to ease access to this precious commodity for the many households in this area. Before the project establishment, the community would crowd around the only available water point or consume water from unknown sources after purchasing it from people who circulate water on bicycles, which in many cases would lead to diseases. 

Arua Municipality TSUPU

According to the households interviewed, this project has saved them from paying exploitative costs for water charged during the dry season. In the past they would pay UGX 700 per jerry can; but now they only pay UGX 100 for the water. It has also reduced congestion and quarrels at water points. These are now issues of the past, and people are very organized now. From various views of many men in the area, the project has had an impact right at the family level; misunderstandings between husbands and wives over suspicion of unfaithfulness when the women are out fetching water for long hours are no longer there. Some women also reported that cases of rape and harassment have gone down because they do not walk in the dark anymore. In the past such misfortunes were common, though they would go unreported because women feared reporting to the police due to reprisals. Women are now more productive, having more time to utilize for other activities, rather than spending much of it seeking water. Many of the community members interviewed also shared that the water point has greatly contributed to reduced cases of waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid. The epidemics are a thing of the past in Arua municipality. To the federation at large ,the project has been able to mobilize many into the federation and they have joined saving groups. 




Arua Municipality TSUPU

This project was awarded to a group in Zambia cell made up of women, most of who are wives to teachers in Mvara senior secondary school. They implemented the project in conjunction with Arua municipality and they possess all the necessary documents for the project. The project was to serve several zones in Mvara which lack water. According to residents, they have suffered from the lack of water for as long as they can remember. Since completion of the project, the borehole is now operational and is serving more than 250 households in Mvara. Its management is organized in such way that each zone is represented in deciding matters concerning the borehole, including the charge per month, the collection, and security and maintenance of the borehole. 

There are five zones in the area i.e. Coast zone, Ndrifa zone, Orube zone, Anyafio West and Anyafio East zones. Each zone has two representatives on the borehole management committee. The representatives meet regularly to discuss matters pertaining to the borehole & water delivery and propose suggestions for the monthly charge to be paid by consumers. This creates a unified meeting after mobilizing residents of the various zones they represent and then the proposed charges are discussed to arrive at a consensus. Other matters of security and fencing of the borehole also take the same course. The federation is well represented in the committees and is doing a good job of mobilizing other members into the federation and into the culture of saving. 



GROUP AWARDED: ARICEN WOMEN A1, A2, B1, B2, C1C2, D1 savings group 


This project is soon coming to completion and all operations are moving well to ensure that it is finished within the period of grace granted. It suffered several setbacks from the weather conditions to community dynamics and land disputes but all has been resolved to ensure that the community gets the long-awaited foot bridge to connect Oli A and Oli B to Dadama County. Through consultative meetings between the municipality and the communities, many matters were resolved with a few communities compensated over land. The bridge is set to complete in the month of March and is very welcome in the area. It will shorten the distance covered to access different cells, widen the economic window and diversify economic activities in the area, ultimately putting a stop to the problems caused by floods in the area during the rainy season. 

The Aricen women savings group is made of many women, with a few men having joined the group after seeing the successes it was registering. The group has all the documents pertaining to the project and has been very instrumental in resolving disputes around the project, some emanating from the very contentious item – land. They also helped iron out the expectations and misconceptions of TSUPU as a project in the area. 

Aricen is a powerful, large federation group (as the name suggests) from A to D covering various cells in Oli. They have a very good loaning system and have been able to undertake several livelihood projects such as goat rearing, basket making, mat weaving, tailoring and bead works, which generate some good income for them. The ability to partner with the municipality on this project has been a very big achievement to them.



This project was implemented by communities, most of them local council leaders in Arua, but not specifically members of the National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda. The implementers have however employed many slum dwellers who collect the refuse in the various localities of Arua town to keep the town clean. They have also provided garbage skips in different locations of the town to act as collection points. The project is doing well and although there is a need to scale up to keep Arua clean, the project has been able to contribute positively to the reduction of refuse around the central business district. There are already scenic benefits and the air is not heavy or filthy anymore. With time, and probably with the guidance of the municipality, the group will find ways of scaling up. Solid waste management is proving to be a vibrant area to invest in; it could bring back so much and provide employment to many people if well organized. 

Looking at how the first phase of TSUPU has taken course in Arua, one is left admiring the collaboration between the municipality and the federation and hoping that things will continue getting better and better as we get into the second phase. Community capacity has been built, their negotiations, management and procurement skills sharpened; they have been empowered and are change agents in the municipality. TSUPU has received a lot of credit among the Arua residents as a program that promotes good, governance and management, for the prudent utilization of the funds to benefit the Ugandan citizenry, especially the poor and marginalized, as well as foster equitable national development.

“Green Shack” Features Community-based Planning at Design Indaba 2013

The Green Shack

**Cross-posted from the SA SDI Alliance blog** 

By Walter Fieuw, CORC South Africa 

In 2012 the community of Mshini Wam initiated an innovative approach to the in-situ upgrading of their dense informal settlement. Working closely with the Informal Settlement Network (ISN)—a collective network of informal settlements linking informal settlement civil society groups in five cities in South Africa—and the support NGOs Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC) and iKhayalami, the community worked with City of Cape Town officials, engineers and field officers to upgrade their informal settlement.

Mtshini Wam Profiling

Reblocking is a community-led in-situ re-arrangement of shacks in accordance to a community design framework which opens up safer and more dignified public spaces (called “courtyards”). The community was in charge of implementing this project and more than 50 short term job opportunities were created through the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) in partnership with the City of Cape Town.

Through the “re-blocking” and community mobilisation processes, topographical, institutional and social issues have been overcome. The “re-blocking” is a priority as it will allow better access to services. To further protect against fires, the community is hoping to use fire-resistant materials when re-building their houses. The city will partner to provide sewer and water lines, as well as electrical poles and electrical boxes for each family.

Re-blocking is more than just technical solutions to improving access to services. It is about a community process that starts with the empowerment of woman through savings schemes, the cohesion and unity of community working together on a broad-based project, and the formation of partnerships with government and other stakeholders in the long term development of the Settlement. 

In November 2012, the Mshini Wam community was introduced by long-term development partners Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) to Stephen Lamb and Andrew Lord of Touching the Earth Lightly (TEL). A pilot project was initiated around the building of a “green shack”, which incorporates low-tech, cost effective and sustainable design principles in the in-situ upgrading of informal settlements. By installing vertical gardens on shack walls and “liter of light” which amplifies natural light through a chemical-based dispenser installed in the roof of the shack. The pilot project drew a lot of media attention. The gardens were installed and subsequently the community started greening the courtyards created through reblocking by installing similar gardens.

All sketches courtesy of TEL

According to TEL’s website,

The Green Shack looks at how simple, low-tech design can transform temporary spaces into “home” spaces. It is focused entirely on what we can achieve now… The next two sides of the cube represent the sun-facing walls of the shack. On these two sides The Green Shack suggests they be wrapped with a fire-proof boarding, covered by a vertical thriving organic vegetable garden. This wall garden creates food for the household. This wall is drip irrigated using a low tech, slow-release gravity fed system via a pipe made of re-cycled car tires. Rain water is also captured off the roof and stored on site. The slow-drip nature of the irrigation system ensures that the wall is constantly wet.

The term “blocking” refers to building or re-building shack according to a spatial development plan. The concept of the “Green Shack” is intended to “piggy-back” this infra-structure development and create what we call “Green Blocks”

With TEL’s low-tech, cost effective and sustainable design products, embedded in the social processes of ISN and the reblocking support from CORC, iKhayalami and ISN technical coordinators, the “green shack” and “green blocks” could inform a new way of looking at productive spaces in informal settlements. For this reason, the South African SDI Alliance partnered with TEL at this year’s Design Indaba at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. This is a opportunity for exhibiting community based planning meeting innovative design.

Be sure to visit the green shack from 1 – 3 March 2013 and have a first hand experience of “green shack” built on site.

Stephen Lamb showcasing the vertical gardens at Design Indaba 2013

The “green shack” from the inside, a 20sqm floor space