Building homes for Uganda’s poor

Equity and Merit Scholarship recipient Andrew Amara graduated from The University of Manchester with an MSc in Global Urban Development and Planning in 2013. Now, he’s swapped building sky scrapers for low cost housing, giving poor families in Uganda the chance to own their own home.

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“Poor families need good quality homes, but there is no housing supply for these people. The houses that are available are sold to high-income or middle-class families.”

Since childhood, Andrew Amara had seen that what people in East Africa needed most was improved access to shelter, clean water, sanitation and energy. “We moved around and the communities were good, but the physical infrastructure was not. The roads were littered with potholes and the materials used to build were not durable. Growing up in such a space, you realise the difference you can make in engineering or architecture.”

Inadequate housing in Uganda's slums
Housing in Uganda’s  slums is often unsanitary and crowded, leaving families vulnerable. Photo by Brian Wolfe/ CC BY-NC

Studying architecture

A scholarship allowed Andrew to study architecture at Makerere University in Kampala. But when he graduated, Andrew was frustrated that his teaching had so far failed to consider solutions to the basic needs of families living in poverty.

“My prior education in architecture taught me how to create fancy buildings made of glass and steel, but the reality is that most people in my country need a very different solution. Our climate also demands something else. So I thought, how can I bridge the gap?”

Andrew knew that a second degree would help, but there was no such course available in Uganda. Finally he found out about the Equity and Merit scholarship programme and the chance to study urban development and planning at The University of Manchester. He applied and was accepted, receiving an Alan Gilbert Memorial Scholarship funded by donors.

My prior education in architecture taught me how to create fancy buildings made of glass and steel, but the reality is that most people in my country need a very different solution. Our climate also demands something else. So I thought, how can I bridge the gap?

Coming to Manchester

Andrew describes his experience at the University as vivid and rich, both in the diversity of the people he met and in the teaching and learning. “There were eight in my class which included people from Argentina, Mexico and Greece. I shared a flat with a Spaniard. So you see, I got to exchange ideas with people from all over the world.”

Andrew Amara and friends at University
Andrew (far left) with his fellow Uganda Equity and Merit scholars while studying at The University of Manchester, 2012.

“I also found the teaching style different. In Uganda, we are somewhat spoken down to, but in Manchester they ask you what you think.”

“You learn a critical thought process and it trains you to be curious and to tackle problems creatively. In this way, you can come up with all sorts of solutions for the same problem.”

Returning home

Armed with new skills and experiences, Andrew returned from Manchester to Uganda where he is now his own boss, employing staff and running two interrelated but separate ventures.

Andrew Amara building affordable homes in Uganda

One is a building consultancy carrying out architecture, engineering, urban planning and environment management. The other is an urban development programme, engaging 150 low-income households in developing a better planned neighbourhood.

Building quality homes for poor families

“We decided to look at how to construct homes that are affordable for low income families,” says Andrew. This includes innovative solutions so families can access finance to buy their own home. This could mean partnering with a bank to negotiate better interest rates.”

Andrew has built the first of these low cost houses in Nabweru slum, Nansana, just outside of Kampala. “Initially, the family who now live in the house were sceptical, but enthusiastic that it could be built for such a low cost.

Andrew Amara outside his low cost home
Andrew’s low cost sustainable houses are clean, affordable and environmentally friendly.

“They had a clear vision of what their dream house could look like and were actively engaged in the challenge of the design and build and in improving what it would be like.”

A sense of pride

“I’m most proud about sharing this innovative shelter solution with the locals, because people here in the slum struggle to own a house. It’s rewarding that a man who is selling fish, or a lady who has a market here in the slum can realise that they can own a house.”

But these aren’t just any old houses. They are sustainable, low in energy use, resilient to extreme climate and with minimal negative impact to the environment.

Building affordable housing in Uganda

It’s rewarding that a man who is selling fish, or a lady who has a market here in the slum can realise that they can own a house.

Andrew explains: “The roof sits on timber poles that are locally available and that grow quickly. The brick is made from the local soil, mixed with sand, lime and cement. It is compacted to make it strong then left to dry for a couple of days. It is much cheaper than buying clay-fired bricks from the valley. It is better to create materials from the neighbourhood and more environmentally friendly.”

Teaching others to build low cost homes in Uganda

A bright future

Andrew is optimistic about the role he can play in improving urban living. He estimates that within about five years he and his team should have developed over 1,000 houses for poor families. These will be well planned, more able to get their energy from the sun, made from better building materials that are affordable, but still look nice.

“Here in the towns and cities of Uganda, we have the opportunity to create something better,” he says. “And none of this would have been possible without my Equity and Merit Scholarship. It has not just educated me as an individual; it has set in motion the wheels of change for cities and settlements in Uganda. I feel privileged and blessed to be part of it.”

Watch online

Hear Andrew’s story in his own words.

 

An effective approach

The Equity and Merit Programme is part of the University’s commitment to social responsibility. Students come from Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda to study at the University, gaining vital skills that aren’t available in their home country.

The University covers the student’s tuition fees, and donors fund the student’s flights, visas and living costs.

Over the past 10 years, donors have helped fund more than 200 students to study for a Master’s degree at The University of Manchester.

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