Forward Step Organization have needed more space for the students that attend their learning centre for a very long time.  Finally, on Monday 3rd June, the building works started. 

Forward Step currently operate out of a small office which has been the only space available for teaching.  This has been a major drawback especially during the rainy season which happens twice every year and makes it impossible to conduct classes outside.  The office and the surrounding vacant land are rented and the landlord has agreed to allow the construction to proceed.

Mareike Thideitz and her team of 9 civil engineering students from the Technical University of Munich arrived from Germany on Sunday 2nd June.   They bought tools, gadgets, and materials with them along with an unbelievable amount of energy and enthusiasm.  In May 2018 Mareike first heard about Forward Step Organizations need for a larger leaning space, where classes and other activities such as dance, theatre and craft workshops can be held. 

Mareike designed the structure with particular attention to environmental issues including the possibility to use recycled waste products where possible.  These details all tie in with the research and teachings that Mareike is currently undertaking.  She was also able to raise funds in order to subsidise some of the travel and accommodation costs for the students and some funding for the actual build.

We interviewed Mareike to understand her passion and drive and you can read the transcript below.

The overhead canopy for the structure had already been built prior to the team arriving.  This in itself had been a very long process but was completed in May just in time for next phase.

This week the team, together with four local tradesmen, have spent 3 days digging, measuring, erecting form work and preparing the floor area.  On Thursday they laid the subfloor of sand and gravel.  And on Friday they commenced the concrete pour. 

There are always setbacks in construction work and this build was no different.  The first four days of the build has been amazing weather, hot, humid and sunny.  However, today, when the concrete pour was about one quarter of the way through, the heavens opened up and it poured with rain.  But the resilient team of students and tradesmen continued on and proved their determination to get the job done.

Five days of incredible hard work and determination has seen the base for the new centre created and next week the walls, windows and doors go up.

This is an exciting venture for Froward Step and is going to provide a much needed well designed space for ongoing growth and education of local girls and women in the community.

Interview with Mareike Thiedeitz, M. Eng., Technical University Munich, Research Associate at the centre of building materials in the Concrete Working Group

Q: When did you first get involved with the Learning Centre Project?

In Africa much research is ongoing in using special waste materials as cement replacement in concrete. I asked my colleague Wolfram Schmidt, who is doing a lot of projects in different African countries, if he has a project where I could help and research in this topic. In May 2018 therefore I was connected by him to Lisa Freudenthal, who is a German dancer and choreographer. She told me of the needs of the Forward Step Organisation for a proper room for dancing and learning classes. Because I am in an organisation for international women’s rights called Soroptimist, I directly wanted to work together with an organisation for women and girl empowerment and therefore agreed to plan and construct that room.

Q: Why did you want to do the project?

The project is a perfect combination of many things that are very important. I totally support the Forward Step Organisation and am highly impressed by the hard work they are doing. There are so many lacks in gender equality. Especially the lack in education is a big problem. So, I would say, besides my interest in the building part, I have a big intrinsic motivation to support the FSO.

The second part is that civil engineering students of the Technical University of Munich are involved to do this as an option module during their master studies. They are introduced into both the building and the human rights topic, get to know a different culture and work together with local people. When I started this project, I saw that chance and fought hard to implement it in our study program. Fortunately, I am supported very much by some of my colleagues and especially my boss. Without their help I could not have organized the project.

Q: How have you raised funds for the project?

I wrote a 20-page description of the past and current building styles in Tanzania including possibilities for the use of waste natural materials like Rice Husks and architectural plans which were drawn by a friend of mine. The BASF directly was immediately interested in supporting the project. Moreover, the Munich part of Soroptimist International can provide some support for project. 

A lot of the money for flight costs of the students is funded by my university. Last but not least, as soon as we started a bit of marketing, private sponsors started funding. But this is currently only at its very beginning.

Q: What do you hope the outcome to be for these two weeks?

We hope to finalize the raw building including the foundation, floor and walls. The roofing was completed the month before we arrived. Moreover, we are implementing a little biological toilet and natural ventilation. And there is research ongoing on the Rice Husks which can be used as cement replacement if they are burnt and ground properly. I hope to proceed with this research because prospectively it is very important to find cement replacements due to the high greenhouse gas emissions during cement production.

Q: What’s next?

If the project succeeds and my university still supports that project, I definitely will continue with the student “easy building project” annually. The work with the FSO is going so well and there are still lots of spaces where rooms or sanitation are needed. I’d like to improve the whole concept of “engineering and education” in combination with human rights organizations and the possibility to connect people from different countries and cultures. The outcome is amazing.

Categories: News


Stephen · June 16, 2019 at 10:28 am

Beautiful grammar in this article

Dolphine Anyango · June 23, 2019 at 10:34 am

Great initiative Mareike! You are a true Soroptimist my dear Sister. I am so sorry I was unable to meet you when you came to Kenya!

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