THE HISTORY OF SEA


 

In 2004, Brigt Oystese built a simple adobe house together with his neighbor in the little town of Dimtu in Wester Ethiopia. Brigt is SEA’s founder. With his background as a carpenter and general contractor, Brigt was interested in finding a better technique for building houses in the area where he lived. He noticed that the traditional chika houses built mostly with wood were very vulnerable to attacks by termites. In Dimtu, where Brigt and his family lived, chika houses lasted not more than about 10 years, yet costed 3-4 years’ income. Brigt decided to build his neighbor’s house using mud-blocks made by mixing common red clay with fermented straw and water. In addition, Brigt made a physical termite barrier using strips of corrugated tin which he mortared in just above the lower course of adobe blocks.

During Easter, 2012, Brigt and his family returned to Dimtu to visit where they had lived. They found that the adobe house Brigt had built was still in excellent condition and showed no signs of termite attacks. This was in sharp contrast to neighboring chika houses which, though built at the same time, were almost completely eaten up by termites. This experience cemented the conviction that the traditional wooden house has become a poverty-trap. An alternative is desperately needed!

Inspiration to start Solid Earth Africa was not simply based on the idea of introducing a new technical innovation in the area of housing. An important experience for Brigt and his wife Ingun was their work in developing and piloting a new methodology for the fight against HIV/AIDS. This involved mobilizing the wider community in the Dire Dawa area in eastern Ethiopia where they later worked. They were able to see how fighting a common enemy together provided a platform for building friendships across traditional religious and ethnic dividing lines. From 2004 to 2007, Brigt and Ingun, together with all almost all the local congregations, built up a very successful HIV/AIDS pilot project in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia’s second largest city. One of the intended side effects of their work was new friendships between Orthodox, Protestants and Catholics in the city. For historical, ethnic, political and religious reasons, churches had very little experience in cooperating together. Yet HIV/AIDS is the enemy of all people and makes no distinction based on which group you belong to.

During a three-day training workshop, they watched as friendships were built. Today, ten years after Brigt and Ingun left Dire Dawa, the churches are still coordinating the work they began from the same office. Based on this remarkable experience, a new dream began to take shape in Brigt’s mind. Could the threat of climate change due to environmental degradation bring people together? Could atheists, Christians and Muslims work together to fight for a better life? Under the hot sun, we are all vulnerable human beings. We all get thirsty. Why not fight for an environmentally-friendly community that takes care of the forests, the animals and the people—together?

Building sustainable adobe houses is a focus widely different people can agree on together. The natural result is a growing experience that cooperation is possible! By sweating together, getting dirty, eating together and visiting in between, understanding and friendship naturally grow as something tangible—a house made using the world’s most sustainable building material, the earthitself—is built. What begins as a threat, posed by the enemies of deforestation and erosion, can end up bringing people together—people in local communities and people across international borders.

Several years after returning from Ethiopia, Brigt and several friends decided that the experience of new ways to approach the fight against HIV/AIDS coupled with the experience of building a simple adobe house had to be followed up in some way—for the sake of the vanishing forests and for the sake of ordinary Ethiopians caught in a house-building tradition which no longer served Ethiopians as it once did. Just a year later, in the spring of 2013, Solid Earth Africa (SEA) was registered as a Norwegian association whose purpose was to promote termite-proof adobe houses in Ethiopia.