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

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

There is growing uncertainty over whether West’s response to ISIS is adequate More

China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

New policy encourages reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but retain Chinese citizenship; move spurs sharp debate More

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with international community 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.
Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?i
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 29, 2014 12:26 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid