Humanitarian Architecture

Testing Concepts: Hands-on experience building an oven and a cookstove using local materials in Arusha, Tanzania (2017)

In 2017 I traveled to Arusha (Tanzania) to volunteer in the construction of an earthen oven and a cookstove for the future dining room of the Pieralba Pre & Primary School. The school is located in the Arumeru District of the Arusha Region, about 40 km southeast of Arusha City and serves about 200 children from the area.

The field trip was part of the "Humanitarian Engineering Materials" and "Designing for Developing Communities" courses taught at Penn State. Both courses were led by Dr. Esther Obonyo with the support of Dr. Eugene Park from the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) who was in contact with the school prior to the field trip. These courses were part of the Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship Program at Penn State,

The experience taught us many things, but principally how to work as a team, and how to be creative in a scarce resource environment. The next step, in charge of our partners from the NM-AIST, will be to test the oven and stove and measure its efficiency in terms of fuel consumption, temperature, and cooking time, and compare to the current way of cooking.


Oven and Cookstove Team:

Professors: Dr. Esther Obonyo (Professor in charge from Penn State), Dr. Eugene Park (Profesor in charge from NM-AIST)

Students: Crystel Abdallah (International Affairs), Madeline Hessmann (Engineering), John Iffert (Civil Engineering), Jonathan Lee (International Affairs), Sumit Pareek (Chemical Engineering), Tessa Sontheimer (Community, Environment, and Development), and Julio Diarte (Architecture).

Kindergarten Project for the Metropolitan Area of Asuncion, Paraguay (2004)

After the experiences of the Rural School in Conception, Paraguay, I worked as a volunteer in the design of a prototype for a kindergarten addressed to host children of young single mothers who cannot afford to pay a private kindergarten to leave their children while they were working. The project was promoted by a governmental institution and funded by private construction companies.  

Rural School Project and Construction in Paraguay (2001-2002)


In 2001, as part of the architecture students union at the Architecture, Design and Arts School in Paraguay, we organized a voluntary design and construction project for a rural school in the region called Concepcion, Paraguay. Concepcion at that time was one of the poorest areas in the country, and the situation of the primary schools was deplorable. As architecture students, we strongly believed that we could contribute to improving the education of children in the area through the design and construction of a new building using local techniques and materials.


During the two years of the duration of the project, we visited the site, had met with the local authorities and community, organized workshops with participation of other students and faculty to design a new building, raised funds, and organized two constructions workshops were we worked closely with the community in the construction of the new school. This was one of the most enrichment experiences in our academic lives and definitely oriented our interest and eagerness on continue contributing to improving the built environment. 

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