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Building on Solid Foundations


Building a foundation.

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Laying Bricks
Yacouba, the head mason (left), teaches Norm how to lay bricks.

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July 25, 2008
-Deborah Froese

ORODORA, Burkina Faso —In Burkina Faso, the Bible story of the foolish man who builds his house on the sand is lived out yearly; houses don’t last. A common adage in the town of Orodara where Lillian and Norm Nicolson work says that if your house continues to stand through August, the month with the highest average rainfall, it will probably stand for another year.

Although the short life span of houses is often blamed on the inferiority of mud bricks, the Nicolsons report that two walls in a cement brick house in Orodara fell even before the building was complete.

The Nicolsons are supported by MC Canada Witness and Mennonite Mission Network through Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission to engage in Bible translation (Lillian) and develop recorded audio media (Norm) for all the local languages among the Siamou-speaking people surrounding their home village of Tin. They say that buildings collapse because of the lack of sound foundations. Lillian writes that “People cut corners because they want to save money and a foundation isn’t visible.”

When it came time to build their own home, the Nicolsons decided to set the example of the wise man by building their home on “rock” – a solid concrete foundation.

Before construction began, the Nicolsons had to convince Yacouba, the head mason, that they wished to have the floor poured on the foundation before the walls were constructed. Under typical local building practices, a thin layer of concrete would be poured for the floor as the final step in the construction process. Luckily, Yacouba was curious enough about the Nicolson’s “weird” ideas to try something new.

Teamwork and knowledge exchange was also a large part of the building process. Yacouba taught Norm how to lay bricks. Drissa and Omar shovelled cement mortar from wheelbarrows up to the masons as they worked from scaffolding. As Norm and friends put up the rafters, Yacouba watched, learning a new approach to roof construction. Lillian took a break from her translation work to treat the rafters with insecticide to discourage boring insects from sharing their residence.

Throughout the project and with the ensuing camaraderie, Lillian and Norm prayed that their time working with local trades people would build another kind of foundation – one upon which community relationships could grow.