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Re: GSBN:Pakistan Straw Bale and Appropriate Building (PAKSBAB) - An Update

Hi Darcey,

I was approached by a guy from Pakistan for info on SB building just after
the earthquake as SB seemed like a good solution for some of their housing
needs so it's great to see that Pakistan is getting some SB homes, thanks
for sharing your experiences.

bale on
<a  target="_blank" href="http://www.strawbale-building.co.uk/";>http://www.strawbale-building.co.uk/</a>
----- Original Message -----
From: ecoengr@...
To: gsbn@...
Sent: Saturday, November 24, 2007 8:08 AM
Subject: GSBN:Pakistan Straw Bale and Appropriate Building (PAKSBAB) - An

Hello and a belated thank you for welcoming me into the group (over a year
ago)!  I thought you might be interested in the following update.  If you
wish to view the referenced drawings/pictures in PDF format, please send me
a quick email and I'll gladly forward them on to you.




November 22, 2007

Assalamu' alaikum (peace be upon you),

As I'm writing this on Thanksgiving Day, I'm profoundly aware of how much I
have to be grateful for.  Since my last email I've made two more trips to
Pakistan, and I wish to share some of my experiences with you as well as
update you on Pakistan Straw Bale and Appropriate Building's (PAKSBAB)
recent accomplishments.

My third trip to Pakistan was at the end of March 2007, and lasted 3 months.
Surkhab Khan, Zamurad Khan, volunteer Sarah Machtey and I held PAKSBAB's
second straw bale training course at Baidar Bakht's house in Hillkot, during
which we raised the bale walls, installed the roof, and started the earthen
plaster.  There were delays receiving wood from the mill, and the water and
electricity were intermittent, but it was satisfying to see progress.  At
the conclusion of the training there was still work to be done, so we hired
the local students, providing them an opportunity to further increase their
skills and earn much needed wages.

Along with our newly arrived volunteer Shannon Whitnack, we moved on to a
project with the organization TEAM / Salamat-e-Hazara in Qalanderabad, where
we conducted a training session and constructed a two room house with a
kitchen and veranda for their watchman, Shafi.  In the aftermath of the
earthquake, Shafi and his family relocated to Qalanderabad from the Alai
valley, and with the assistance of a loan were able to buy land.  We had an
eager-to-learn and hardworking crew, and the house went up smoothly (see the
attachment entitled House C).  Shannon was a delight for all of us to work
with; she was very helpful in the training as well as extremely supportive
to me personally.  Partnering with Salamat-e-Hazara was also a positive
experience.  We found the organization and their employees to be very
professional and cooperative.

Shannon generously extended her trip by 2 weeks so Surkhab and I could
attend a 10-day study visit to northern Pakistan.  The study visit was
sponsored by the Building and Social Housing Foundation and was a tour of
the World Habitat Award winning Aga Khan Building and Construction
Improvement Program (BACIP).  It was a wonderful opportunity to meet
like-minded social entrepreneurs from around the world and to learn about
the innovative approaches BACIP is implementing, which focus on regionally
appropriate home improvement projects.

I returned home for a harried 5 weeks, and then I was off to Pakistan for 9
weeks to partner on another project with Salamat-e-Hazara, this time
building 3 small houses for needy families in Mansehra and Shinkiari.  Our
objective was to build the 357 s.f. one room houses for $1500 each, which
I'm proud to say we accomplished.  We developed a very simple design and
structural system using a gravel bag foundation, fishing net for anchoring
and plaster reinforcement and site built composite I-beams for rafters
(concept per BACIP).  We hired Shafi's brother Gul Khan as a full time
employee; he was a trainee and a great help to us on our previous project,
is an excellent mason, and has continued to be extremely responsible and
hardworking.  We also had the assistance of our former trainees, as well as
5 sincere young German and English men who came to volunteer with us for 3
weeks via Salamat-e-Hazara.  Building one house right after the other gave
us the opportunity to optimize our building methods, maximize our
efficiency, and gradually empower individuals to take responsibility for
overseeing the construction (see the attachment entitled House D).

A special recognition goes out to Salim Khan, an employee of
Salamat-e-Hazara who worked with us on our collaborative straw bale
projects.  He's a true advocate of natural building, and is enthusiastic,
supportive, and creative.  It's been a real pleasure to work with him and to
develop a friendship with his entire family.

Another step we took was to purchase our first PAKSBAB vehicle, a Suzuki
Bolan.  It looks like a smaller version of a VW bus, is convenient for
transporting supplies and materials, and we can seat 8 people in it.  It
runs efficiently on either natural gas or petrol and as a result we are
saving significant funds on vehicle expenses.

The month of Ramadan started during the last 2 weeks of my trip.  I was
staying with Surkhab's family, getting up at 3:45 a.m. to eat breakfast, and
we were leaving for work at 4:30.  Participating in the fast was the natural
and appropriate thing to do, as well as an honor.  Sleep deprivation was my
biggest challenge, as I would work on my computer until late in the evening
trying to stay ahead of the crew and also trying to meet my California

In retrospect, the real challenge and accomplishment of my fourth trip was
getting our bookkeeping in order and PAKSBAB further organized.  Surkhab was
concerned about improving our efficiency and was ready for the organization
to move forward more quickly.  He spoke openly with me, explaining past and
present events so I had a better understanding of the overall picture.  It
was an exercise in getting people in the right seats on the bus, and it's
still in progress.  Although reluctant at first, Surkhab is now PAKSBAB's
Director, has our finances up-to-date using QuickBooks, and is consistently
making decisions in the best interest of the organization.  I'm pleased with
the direction we're heading.

Martin Hammer just recently returned from his second trip to Pakistan.
During his 5-week visit the team completed the final touches on Baidar's
house and started our current project, Hamid's house in Battal.  Hamid was a
student during our first two training courses.  He was a tenant of Baidar's
who saved up his hard-earned money and recently purchased his own land in
Battal, successfully rising from the landlord / tenant system.  We're very
proud of him!

Another recent and exciting development is that PAKSBAB received a generous
grant from the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute to conduct seismic
testing on our straw bale structural system at the University of Nevada,
Reno.  We will be performing individual wall tests as well as a shake table
test of a 14' x 14' building at UNR's Large-Scale Structures Laboratory /
NEES Equipment Site.  We have received preliminary approval from the
National Science Foundation / NEES for free 5-day use of the laboratory,
including technician time.  We have an exceptional advisory committee on
board, and I owe a very special "thank you" to Professor Ian Buckle, the
director of the laboratory, for his initial mention of the funding
opportunity and his subsequent support and confidence in our research
project.  PAKSBAB is hoping to bring Surkhab and Salim to the US to assist
in the specimen construction and testing.

I'm also excited to report that our PAKSBAB website (www.paksbab.org) is
about to be launched!  We're much obliged to our volunteer Felise Canterini
and her husband Pedro for their hard work pulling it all together.  It's a
great start and we'll continue to add content over the upcoming months.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank those of you who mailed in
donations; because of your generosity, we've made great strides forward.  In
order for PAKSBAB to become sustainable, we have to diversify and bring in
funds from private donors, foundations, as well as the organizations we
partner with in Pakistan.  We're now in a good position to solicit funding
from major sources; I'm optimistic that we'll be successful.

In closing, I wish to share a special story with you, that of a quiet
10-year-old girl named Saba (see the attachment entitled Saba).  Her
13-year-old brother was helping PAKSBAB move construction materials to the
job site and Saba would come, initially to observe, and later to help.  When
I inquired why she wasn't in school, I was told that her father had died one
year before and her 14-year-old brother was working at a gas station
attempting to support the family.  As a widow with 6 children, her mother
has no hope of remarrying and essentially no means of earning money.  Before
her father died, Saba had completed the 5th grade and was first in her
class, but now the family couldn't afford the fees to send her to the
private local school, or the transportation charges to the more distant
public school.  I decided that although I couldn't afford to educate all the
disadvantaged Pakistani children I encountered, I could at least send Saba
back to school.  She was ecstatic.  Salim, Saba and I visited the school
principal, and I paid for Saba's fees, uniforms, books and supplies for the
school year.  I later decided to share Saba's educational experience with my
5 nephews and nieces by contributing Saba's school expenses in their names
as their birthday presents.

It was an extremely heart-warming and rewarding experience, and reminds me
of how much I have to be thankful for.  Although the gratification isn't as
immediate, it encourages me to keep striving to accomplish PAKSBAB's larger
and more difficult objectives, which can have an even greater impact on the
community.  It seems if we make the effort to build relationships based on
compassion, mutual respect and trust, whether between individuals or between
nations, we can take the necessary steps forward to make this a better

With gratitude and blessings,


Darcey Donovan, P.E.


P.O. Box 1083

Truckee, CA 96160 USA

(530) 582-5516 ph &amp; fax

(530) 902-5516 cell


Pakistan Straw Bale and Appropriate Building (PAKSBAB)

Program Advisor / Engineer


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