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World News of Saturday, 13 January 2018

Source: africanews.com

Low cost 'earthen floor' technology helps to improve the quality of lives in Rwanda

Science&TechnologyRWANDA Stanford University students had adopted a simple floor technology to improve lives

A group of former students at Stanford University had an idea to adopt a proven simple floor technology from the United States.

Their non-profit social enterprise Earth Enable, based one hour from, Kigali now helps to improve the quality of life for families throughout the country.

Their aptly named “earthen floors” are made without industrial.They use machinery from a mixture of compacted, locally sourced materials — gravel, sand, and clay.

It is then sealed with a natural oil mixed with a self-developed additive which is kept as a trade secret. In the US linseed oil is used, but it is rather expensive and difficult to source. The team found a replacement in flax oil and developed a compatible sealant additive that made this floor concept work and affordable for low-income homes in Africa.

The plant oil and additives are mixed at Earth Enable`s compound at the booming town of Nyamata, and ready for dispatch after cooling off within 24 hours. But local customers are not so much interested in the production process and rather if the new solution is living up to their expectations:

‘‘The Earth Enable floor is a floor which is not harmful to the environment. It is affordable and very cheaper. We do use the varnish from our people who do research and development. It is very good and helps us to make the floor very strong", a call centre agent at Earth Enable, Jeanne Ishimwe said.

A team from Earth Enable led by Operations assistant Olivier Hozana takes us to a village house where the dirt floors are to receive a make-over. House owner Chantal Uwera did her own research and was convinced that installing hard floors can reduce the risk of illness. As she realized quickly with the high cost of materials and delivery using concrete as flooring solution would cost her $300 to $500 for her 40-square-meter home – a prohibitively expensive proposition.

Earth Enable is now providing her with an affordable alternative at roughly one-third of the price of concrete flooring – and the cost is an important factor for subsistence farmers like her:

“I choose what we know as Tura Neza as it is rather cheap, and I did not have money to buy cement, that is why I choose Tura Neza", Chantal said.

In two weeks time, after a staged process of clearing dirt, compacting natural floor materials and sealing the ground with Earth Enable`s oil mix the new floors will provide a healthier home environment for the family.

Olivier Hozana, Operations Assistant at Earth Enable said ‘‘they did not have an earthen floor, so what we going to do for them, is to do the floor for a cheaper price. This will help them avoid diseases like diarrhea. So it is going to change their lives and they are happy about that’‘.

But homeowners are not the only ones profiting from this flooring concept. Earth Enable has also developed training workshops to equip Rwandan masons with the skills they need to market, construct, and install such high-quality earthen floors. After the training, masons are granted rights to purchase the Earth Enable drying oil and serve as part of the network for distribution, installation, and maintenance of such floors.

The organization is also working directly with housing-focused nongovernmental organizations in Rwanda as marketing channels for earthen floors and as a means of directing business to trained masons.

In a nearby village, we visit Felicien Mpfurayinshuti, who enjoys the first day of having proper flooring in her house.

While the regular earthen floor in one room is difficult to distinguish from concrete flooring, she chooses to have the main rooms in her house painted red.The trendy looks are for sure important, but the affordability of this 90 dollar project was also a major factor for her:

“I saw a house where this floor was put in, and I liked it. But also it is affordable for me,“ Felicien said.

Research has shown that the flooring challenge is not limited to Rwanda. A substantial unmet demand for clean, durable, and affordable floors exists globally across developing countries. The discomfort and disease caused by substandard housing materials also present an emotional burden, as Earth Enable`s founders identified in their research.

While poverty is the cause of poor-quality homes, such homes lead people to feel poor and not upwardly mobile. This further contributes to productivity and motivation losses. Earth Enable strives to change this cycle.

Fees collected will help the nonprofit to expand into new markets. With dirt floors all over the world causing people to get sick and frustrated the social enterprise for sure has a lot of work ahead.