This week I spent a lot of time investigating some of the local home building techniques. I’m sure most of you will appreciate that this post is short on words and long on pictures and video about what I learned.

Most of the homes, new and old, are made of mud in one form or the other. In general, here are the categories of construction technique from lower to higher quality:
(1) Wood lattice covered with mud.
(2) Wood lattice covered with mud and sealed with a very thin layer of Portland cement stucco.
(3) Mud bricks with mud mortar.
(4) Mud bricks with mud mortar and sealed with a very thin layer of Portland cement stucco.
(5) Fired clay bricks with mud mortar.
(6) Fired clay bricks with mud mortar and sealed with a very thin layer of Portland cement stucco.
(7) Fired clay bricks with cement mortar and sealed with a very thin layer of Portland cement stucco.

The vast majority of new construction, and there is a LOT of it going on, is using category (3) Mud bricks with mud mortar. Please keep in mind these homes rarely have running water, electricity or an indoor kitchen or toilet. Cooking on a wood or charcoal fire on the ground right outside your front door and using an outhouse is the norm.

Watch this video to see how mud bricks are made and hear Francis describe the economics of his mud brick business:

To recap the numbers:
(1) A mud brick sells for 27RWF (27 Rwandan Francs is about 5 cents).
(2) The land owner gets paid 5RWF per brick for his dirt.
(3) The brick maker gets paid 8RWF for a dried brick so if he makes 300 good bricks a day, his daily wage is 2,400RWF (about 4 dollars).
(4) If the bricks must be carried the 1 kilometer to the road, an additional 4RWF is paid to the laborer who carries them.
(5) Net profit per brick is 10 to 14RWF.
(6) Francis has 2 brick makers so he can sell 600 bricks per day which gives him a daily net profit of 6,000 to 8,400RWF (10 to 14 dollars).

Here are some brick making photos:

Mud Pit

This Pit Supplies the Dirt for Making Mud

Drying Mud Bricks

Bricks Drying for 3 days

Stacked Mud Bricks

After 3 Days of Drying, the Bricks are Stacked and Ready for Delivery

Deteriorating Mud Bricks

After only a couple of rains, these bricks are literally melting away (Rain and Mud Bricks Don't Mix)

Mud Brick Factory

One of Many Backyard Brick Factories in the Area

Category (1) Wood lattice covered with mud is the most common and most traditional existing construction technique, but you don’t see many new homes being built this way. This technique first builds a frame for the home with a lattice work of tree branches lashed together and then covers them with mud.

Kids and Mud Home

Kids and Goats Outside of Their Category 1 Mud Home (category 2 home in the background)

Deteriorating Mud Home

A Mud Home Deteriorates after a Couple of Years of Rain

Inside Deteriorating Mud Home

A Look Inside the Deteriorating Mud Home (the white thing is the bed)

The people who live here get up early and work honest and VERY HARD 7 days a week.

Category (3) and (4) homes begin with mud bricks and mud mortar. Here are some photos of the process:

Mud Mortar

This Mud Mortar Is Being Made with Dirt from the Home's Own Floor

Mud Brick Construction

Laying Mud Bricks with Mud Mortar

Metal Roof Install

Installing Very Thin Sheet Metal Roofing over Wooden Rafters

About the highest quality construction you will see anywhere around here is category (6) and (7) which both use clay bricks fired in a homemade kiln. These bricks hold up much longer to the rain though the mud mortar does not. If the homeowner has enough money, he will stucco the house with cement to seal it from the deteriorating effects of the weather.

Fired Bricks and Mud Mortar

A Home Being Built with Fired Clay Bricks and Mud Mortar

Notice there is very little concrete and no reinforcing steel. When the earthquake hits, this home will, at best, be a pile of rocks, at worst, it will be a tomb.

Rwandans work just as hard to provide a home for their family as anybody I have ever seen, and they spend much more of their income on housing than folks in the US. I have found homeowners who have had to stop sending their kids to school for years because they couldn’t afford both a home and school fees… That means everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, is digging deep and sacrificing to provide the family a home.

Unfortunately, none of these VERY sacrificial housing investments will be transferred down to the next generation. The homes simply won’t last that long so their children and grandchildren will be left to repeat their parents investment.

…THIS IS NO SMALL PROBLEM…
* Rwandans don’t have much income.
* Rwandans pour the bulk of their income into their homes.
* Rwandans either rent or own substandard homes which will not last even one generation.
Therefore, the bulk of Rwanda’s current income will never transfer to the next generation.

And it’s the transference of wealth from one generation to the next, through real estate, infrastructure, education, etc., that allows children to have more health, education and opportunity than their parents.

I see no bigger lever to help Rwanda work its way out of poverty than to help them transfer prosperity to their next generations. We don’t get to encourage them to pour almost all of their hard earned money into their home. They’re already doing that.

What we do get, is the opportunity to help that money bless their children and grandchildren because it’s being invested in something that has generational value.

Mud Home View

Even a Mud Home Can Have a Great View in Rwanda