News / USA

Refugee Camp Springs Up on US University Campus

Southern Methodist University showcases affordable shelters

Mud hut built out of plastic bag bricks
Mud hut built out of plastic bag bricks

Multimedia

Audio
Bill Zeeble

A refugee camp built by students and volunteers spreads over Southern Methodist University's expanse of green lawns and live oaks. The affordable shelters are designed to be used by the poor as well as survivors of war and natural disasters.

The diverse structures are clustered around a white United Nations tent. A six-sided poly-propylene and aluminum house is adjacent to a dome-shaped igloo made of sandbags. Next door is a recycled plastic-brick-and-mud hut. SMU senior engineering major Carson Linstead, who helped erect the dozen different buildings, spent a week living in them.

"The biggest thing is I'm getting a perspective about what's going on in different parts of the world," he says. "Whenever you're an SMU student, it's easy to get caught up in the city and kind of your own little bubble, your own little world. Whenever you're an engineer, there are so many problems you're capable of solving."

Solar panel and GE water purifier on the HabiHut shelter roof
Solar panel and GE water purifier on the HabiHut shelter roof

Problems such as lack of shelter or power in post-Katrina New Orleans, Haiti's Port-au-Prince after the earthquake, or impoverished villages in the developing world.

"By the time we reach 2020, there's going to be about 1.7 billion people living in slums and so we would like to effect change," says Stephanie Hunt, co-founder of the Hunt Institute for Engineering and Humanities at SMU. The institute was established to solve problems of the poor in the United States and around the world through engineering, collaboration and the free market. It helped fund the village on SMU's campus.

"We would like to inspire the next generation of engineer, entrepreneur, anthropologist, lawyer, anyone who can help," she says. That extends to helping find solutions to every day problems facing some of the world's poorest people, such as access to clean water.

 

The little campus village has a low-pressure, low-cost water purifier capable of creating enough drinking water for 3,000 people a day. Student Linstead points to solar panels on the roof of a pre-packaged shelter, and explains they can be used to re-charge cell phones.

"So what most people don't know is, whenever you go over to these countries like Kenya and places like that, that cell phones are actually a huge, huge commodity," he says. "While these people almost have no money, they all have cell phones but they don't have any electricity to charge them."

With the solar panels, now they will.  

The goal is not just to save lives, but to change them. The Institute hopes some entrepreneurs might earn some money with these ideas. One of the structures in the SMU village was built with bricks made mostly from recycled plastic bags.

They're held together with heavy wire.  Harvey Lacey, father of two college-aged sons, including one here at SMU, heard about this project and contributed his invention. It’s a heavy-duty, hand-crank compactor that anybody can use to form the big bricks he calls Ubuntu Blox.

Materials that make up the recycled plastic brick
Materials that make up the recycled plastic brick

"The beautiful things about this here, these blocks right here weigh less than two pounds. They're very, very stiff, alright? These things can go for many generations of housing," says Lacey, who is giving the design of his product away.  Anybody can follow his online plans to build the compactor that turns plastic bags into bricks.

On this warm day, it’s cool inside the mud-plastered Ubuntu Blox hut, thanks in part to the thick plastic insulation. Lacey says it will soon be tested by scientists for its durability and insulating properties. Kenyan architect Ronald Omyonga, visiting the global village before returning to his native Africa, says his country is full of these recyclable bags that now are trash. But with Lacey’s design, he says that litter could be transformed into safe, affordable housing. He dreams of other benefits too.

"I look at the Harvey Lacey hut, as a means of creating jobs," says Omyonga. "And cleaning the environment, but turning waste into something that can form houses, not just for the poor."

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid