In July 1997, in Bonga, a town of about 11,000 people in the southwestern highland rainforests of Ethiopia, contractor Mulegetta Darebe was putting to use what some Third World development experts call "appropriate technology." For the first time in Bonga, Darebe was building a government building, a guardhouse for the Department of Planning and Economic Development, using a new, locally made cement-stabilized soil brick made from 10% portland cement, 10% sand, 80% gravelly soil, and a small amount of water.
Nothing has to be imported into Ethiopia to make the brick—not even the hand-powered machine—and 90% of the materials are found around Bonga. The concrete brick is thus an "appropriate technology." It puts local people to work collecting materials, which other local people use to make brick, which other local people then lay in place. In short, it gives people jobs and improves construction quality without harming the local rainforest.
The guardhouse was a small pilot project for this new brick, funded by a Dutch government program, which hoped that building this government building of brick would lead to greater use of the material and encourage local entrepreneurs to go into business producing it.
The project cost 3,000 birr (about $440).
The machine used to make this brick was manufactured in Addis Ababa by metal-working students at the Selam Technical and Vocational Centre, which sells the machines for about 4,000 birr ($590).
After each brick is pressed, it is set on the ground to cure, 3 days on one side, with a sporadic spray of water during the first 24 hours, then 4 days on the other side. Using one machine, eight workers, each earning 7 to 10 birr a day ($1.04 to $1.48 U.S.), can manually produce 400 to 600 brick a day. In Addis Ababa, Selam sells these brick for 0.95 birr (14 cents U.S.) each; units with a radial corner cost 1 birr (15 cents U.S.). When tested by the Materials Research and Testing Department of Addis Ababa University, the cement-stabilized soil brick had an average strength of about 515 psi.
The Selam Technical and Vocational Centre was established in 1991 to give orphans living in the Selam Children's Home and other homes practical job skills.
Selam means peace in Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia. The Selam Children's Home was founded in 1985 during Ethiopia's 30-year war with now-independent Eritrea. Supported by the Selam Children's Home Society in Switzerland, with funding and donations at times from the Swiss government and other agencies, the center now includes an orphanage for more than 300 children, a home for abandoned babies, a clinic for about 50 outpatients a day, a primary school for more than 1,200 children, a high school for 150 students, and a vocational school for more than 160 apprentices.