The Annual International Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence
Berkeley Prize 2024

[ID:1879] An “Adult child” school


Kampala city, the capital of Uganda, hurriedly and disdainfully moves on without noticing an eminent problem that is becoming a national shame. Amidst the confusion and squalor, children between the ages of 4-12 years can be seen in scattered clusters allover. These are the street beggars of my city today that have been branded a nuisance, that is tarnishing the city's image by many city dwellers who quicken their walking pace or roll up their windows in their SUV’s when they see the kids coming to beg. They all share the same story and know the same suffering. Their spindly shaped bodies, rags for clothes and bare feet say alot about their plight. They run and play about with each other, steal from one another and fight while communicating in a North Ugandan dialect. Their numbers steadily grow day after day.

“At least of 66,000 children are still held by the lord’s resistance army. Another 10,000 children associated with the LRA are still unaccounted for.” [A report on child soldiers by Save the Children]

“2/3 of them are severally beaten, a 1/5 are forced to kill and nearly 10% are forced to murder a family member or friend to join the group.” [World development report]

The staggering statistics from an atrocious war of attrition, between the Uganda government and the Lord’s Resistance Army [LRA] in the northern part of the country that has left many children traumatized and lost. Lasting over twenty years, it’s becoming one of Africa’s longest wars discounting the simplistic view that it is or was a manifestation of one fatally misguided pseudo-religious fanatical uprising. Over 2million people have been displaced to date.

“Terrorism of the worst kind anywhere in the world”-UN humanitarian affairs chief Jan Egeland [quoted in a local daily].

More than 1.6 million people remain subsisting in the cramped indignity and hellish atmosphere that the Internally Displaced People’s camps [IDP’s] have become. Many of the children in these camps don’t sleep or stay home for fear of being abducted or sexually abused. These children make their way to the night commuter centers which have become their one way ticket to the big city; in search of a "better life".

Stranded on the streets in the scotching sun they are the unfortunate victims that have been pushed away from their homeland by the war which has seen one or both of their parents killed. In the city, forced into survival mode, like being abandoned in the jungle these feeble and helpless kids no longer have the luxury of being children for they are forced to look after them selves surrounded by tall buildings, fast cars and people that never seem to stop to take a breathe. Life is forcing them to grow up fast and take charge.

"Traumatic events in childhood increase risk for a host of social (e.g., teenage pregnancy, adolescent drug abuse, school failure, victimization, anti-social behavior), neuropsychiatric (e.g., post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociative disorders, conduct disorders) and other medical problems (e.g., heart disease, asthma). The deterioration of public education, urban violence and the alarming social disintegration seen in some of our urban and rural communities can be traced back to the escalating cycles of abuse and neglect of our children"-Margaret E. Blaustein [PhD, clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of children and families impacted by chronic trauma.]

Children often do not have the same capacity to understand or explain most traumatic experiences. Their young minds make many false assumptions about the event – "the tornado came because God was mad." I often wonder do they ever stop to blame anyone-do they seek answers. Do they ever think about their future? And where do they sleep, do they sleep?

"Deep down, kids all want the same stuff. They all want to be loved, they all want a family. And they all want to know why they didn’t have a family and they weren't loved. They're trying to figure out why everything happened to them and can it ever be okay…so that they can say to themselves, ‘It will be okay, and I can relax, and these people aren't going to hurt me.’"– Robert Kendall, former foster child

My desire is to make a difference and change my community into a better place to grow and live with the growing need is to address the issue of street child. These destitutes deserve a future like everyone else; they deserve a chance to live a normal life. The idea is to give these kids the opportunity to be nurtured, comforted, and loved in a protected predictable pattern environment that will give them room to make their own choices and priorities aspirations, and have some control over their destiny with and around people expect the best out of them in behavior, discipline, thinking, working, playing…

"When children are traumatized, they require the consistent support, nurturance and protection of trusted adults in order to heal and recover. Thus, abused children often learn to ignore or disconnect from their feelings. Unfortunately, that's like the ship's captain throwing away the compass. No wonder so many abused children become lost adults who can't seem to find their way."-By Bruce D. Perry [M.D., Ph.D. Principles of working with traumatized children.]

Children need an adult figure in their lives to grow and live meaningful lives. This school will be a meeting point for both members of the public and the children. I want to provide an informal set up environment that will allow kids to interact with “caregivers” and “guardians” who will take up most the children’s public time playing games and talking in a well designed park with inbuilt board games and other play facilities like swings and slides all centered around the “wall of friends” where both the children and caregivers will paste photographs that will be a pictorial journal for each of the kids over the years to come. The school will allow visitors to learn about children in war zones, explore causes and possible solutions, and participate in making a lasting change to make 12th February a day to remember all round the world for these and many other children caught up in war zones around the world.

The school will help get the children off the city streets while also giving them a chance to live a meaningful life today and in the future.

I will try out my ideas on an abandoned industrial park with plenty of green space located just at the edge of the city with a design that will in-corporate eclectic and brilliant elements like plunging walls, plain and geometric shapes to give an interactive view point, overlapping spaces and areas that knit together to form a constantly shifting whole. This will get both the children who will be residents, and the visitors involved in a collective thinking process where minds explore life in a whole different way of learning but most of all its a place where the children can tell their story to the world, be taught and learn.

The school will have various types of temporary exhibitions whether with in the compound, hall way or even their dormitories. The idea is to make these spaces part of the overall presentation of learning in as informal and interactive as possible. The children will use these exhibitions as spatial experiments since they are the most immediate way to test ideas as an environment. Multiples perceptions and distant views used to give a different feel to the exhibition and make the best of their thinking, exploring and understanding.

As children, their minds are fresh, always willing to learn. They are energetic and zealous. Structures emerging from surrounding network of paths with halls, dining and classes stretched along routes allowing for plenty of view and sunlight. Roads that end inside structures, floors that become ceilings revealing hidden figures, the alphabet and numbers, doors that lead from one outside into another outside, playgrounds on top of buildings and spaces that open up to the sky all make the school all even more interesting and engaging for the residents.

In their private time, the children will be given a chance to identify their talents and develop their skill through participating fully to their abilities in sports, drama, farming, livestock keeping, arts and crafts et cetera. Their farm will be located on a plot out of town where they will be transported to on farm days. This shall keep them on the go. Staff help when needed for shopping, going to public events, walk in the park, attend worship, cheer on their favorite teams, and picnic at the playground will be provided. They will enjoy treats of going to “McDonald’s”, the movies, getting a haircut, and playing dodge ball.

With in the dormitories, time will go quickly; meal planning and cooking, videos, personal housekeeping, and gardening, sometimes fighting with a housemate, craftwork, soaking in the tub, and just hanging around. The kids will maintain and decorate their own rooms. This involvement will establish personal pride and independence and helping with all-house chores will also build a great deal of pride both about where they live and in their lives.

At night I intend to carry on the charm of the school during the day, using dazzling, phenomenal and memorable lit-up spaces to fascinate the visitors as they continue to interact with the children.

Practicing mindfulness cultivates understanding, love, compassion, and joy. This practice helps us, especially me, to start taking care of and transform the suffering of these children.

The Uganda Women’s Effort to Save Orphans (UWESO) ,The Africa Network for the prevention for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect (ANPPCAN), Naguru teenage centre, World Vision Uganda, SOS village Jajja’s home at MildMay clinic, Sanyu babies’ home ,Watoto Children’s, The Never again project, Compassion Uganda and Right to Play are united by one cause. These are the NGO’s that are helping the many orphaned and unfortunate children, due to various reasons, so that they do not end up on the streets with no future.[reported in a local daily on World children's day]

The "Adult child" school will create a master plan and exhibit program to interpret Northern Uganda’s war history and present it through the children’s works, documentaries etc. As visitors move through the building and grounds, they will learn about the plait of these children who lived and worked in northern Uganda. Stories of their interaction with the children will be collected and placed into a larger journal for the school archives.

The concept of modular expansible design, which I will be experimenting for the first time, is pivotal for achieving low cost and affordable housing. A key aspect of low cost housing is building material selection which is achievable by using locally available materials that are easy to work with along side cheaper energy sources like solar. In this regard I can choose one of the two earth architecture techniques – adobe and compressed earth blocks (CEB) both used for building walls.

A development and recovery programs of this nature that is intended to promote the quality of life and dignified living conditions for these unfortunate children, today and for generations to come can only be achieved through sensitive, compassionate engagement and participatory consensus building programs that are self-reliant and responsive to socio-economic, community and cultural identity. Architects without Boarders [AWB] are dedicated and committed to helping people in disaster areas like those affected by the Asian tsunami on 26th December 2004.

This commitment to helping communities develop self-directed sustainable recovery and reconstruction programs will be needed in developing a multi-lateral, intercultural, participatory program for this school to foster good will and peace building through sustainable development programs using collaborative and reciprocal education in appropriate technologies, sustainable development practices, strategic economic planning with visionary designs. As an architecture student I relish the challenge and chance to work with professionals, other students, practitioners, educators and laypeople from many backgrounds and cultures that respond to the needs of communities in crisis with sensitivity, compassion and effective capacity to address, in innovative and insightful ways, complex conditions with limited resources.

This project shall be used as a pilot project for many more to be built around the world for children that end up on the streets or homeless due to similar circumstances. AWB is dedicated to promoting safe and life fulfilling built environments that are sustainable, socially and environmentally responsible and it is for this reason that I believe that together we can achieve a local self-reliant and self-sufficient school which will be run and controlled by chosen administrators and teachers assisted by an elected student body from the children. The main capital for the school will come from the sale made off children’s work, entrance fees into their shows, and contributions from the public and NGO’s.

I wish to spearhead this project while working with AWB because of the following specific reasons;

-AWB, thanks to their wide experience on other projects in other countries around the world like Brazil, Nigeria, and Peru will help in organizing and facilitating the means for collaborative technical assistance and support especially in the construction and completion of the school buildings.

-AWB not only brings requested assistance and critical resources such as technical assistance and strategic planning but also focuses on enhancing the capacity for self-reliance and self-determination that will be needed to keep this school up and running for years.

- By networking with professionals, practitioners, educators, public agencies and other relief organizations, AWB enhance the effectiveness of relief and development programs. Through such an interdisciplinary approach AWB will engage with my community at the local level.

-AWB invites and encourages interdisciplinary and multi-cultural collaboration through working alongside local communities, public institutions, civil society organizations, trans-national organizations and other humanitarian relief organizations like those I listed above who have dedicated some or all their resources to helping disadvantaged children all over Uganda.

-Most of all, AWB do not discriminate on the basis of national origin, creed, and cultural, ethnic or religious affiliation.

Working with AWB will help me address the challenges and urgent physical needs of this marginalized community. Offering architectural solutions beyond simple shelter, this school seeks to provide holistic environmentally sound and sustainable solutions to these children’s needs and the needs of many more children that will end up like them due to any other reason. By being involved in the project, I get to be taught to look beyond national politics and see my selves as global citizen.

As with most situations, children seek answers and comfort from adults around them, yet we often feel helpless in this role. Indeed, most traumatic experiences challenge the most mature and experienced adult. While we adults do not have all the answers, we can help children better understand the traumatic event and the ways to respond following trauma. The more we understand these children and the impact of traumatic experiences, the more compassionate and wise we can be as we try to help these children.

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