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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs