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Diary from Africa: the road ahead
Jon Beswick

London architect Jon Beswick, 27, has left the UK on an epic 48,000km overland trip circumnavigating Africa, during which he and his travel partner, strategy consultant Charlie Curtis, will build shelters for HIV clinics and raise money for UK charity One to One Children's Fund. Until 24 February, Jon was working as a project architect for Sacks Maguire Architects on high-end residential projects in Belgravia and Hampstead with construction budgets of £2,000,000. The budget for each shelter, which he is designing, is only a few hundred pounds and will pay for local labour and materials. Over the next few months Jon will be writing a diary for WAN as his adventure continues...

I’m sitting writing in the darkness, there’s been a power cut and no one can tell me when the power is going to come on. I had expected this but not when still technically in the UK.

I’m in Gibraltar and its taken months of hard work and preparation just to get to this dark Gibraltar café. The magnitude of the challenge facing us is quite daunting. We have a 3 ½ tonne winch, high lift jack, sand ladders, water purifier, water pump, Engel fridge, roof tent, side awning, power inverters, sat phones, gps, compressor, a whole array of oils, tools and spare parts and several rolls of gaffer tape… yet still feel terribly under prepared. In a few hours an old University colleague Charlie and I are due to leave this last bastion of British bobbies, red telephone boxes and familiar dialect to cross into Morocco by ferry. Morocco is the start of an attempt to circumnavigate Africa in a Land Rover Defender building facilities to help HIV infected children en-route. We are in partnership with the charity One 2 One Children’s Fund that help a network of paediatric clinics in 23 countries in Africa.

As an architect the prospect is severely daunting. Still at this late hour there is no brief, no site information, no budget, no contract and no word

 

from the clients. After meeting with the directors of One 2 One it became obvious that some of these clinics need facilities such as community waiting areas/shelters and that’s where we established I may be able to help. Following this meeting I requested as much information about the clinics as possible; the location, size, and nature of the existing facilities, local materials used, local building techniques, material prices, labour skills, regulations and local customs and traditions. The list was long and meticulously considered. The charity emailed several clinics all the way around Africa. I subsequently informed my well-paid job (designing and detailing luxury houses in all the richest areas of London) that I was leaving to build shelters for children in Africa…months later I had still received no word from Africa. I was worried. The charity informed me this was usual and communications were often slow/ non-existent. A couple of weeks before our departure a clinic in Burkina Faso replied (in French) with a single sentence about wanting a children’s area.

So that’s it, I’m off to Burkina Faso driving down the West Coast of Africa before turning off in land. I wont know exactly what they require until we get there. When we do, we will establish a brief, site implications, create a budget, work the design, realise the structure, use the money we’ve raised to buy local materials and local labour to construct a small miracle. Effectively we will be acting as surveyor, planner, architect, engineer, contractor and the bank for clients not old enough to know what they need. As you can imagine there will be a whole plethora of problems to overcome, but I’m a problem solver and so far I’m feeling boyishly confident.

But before we can even begin to work we have to find these clinics and get there by travelling thousands of miles over some of the most challenging terrain in the World. So over the last few months we have been studying and training for this expedition. The Land Rover has been completely over-land prepared adding a raised and stiffened suspension, roll cage bar, side lockers, sump/ steering guards, wading snorkel, secondary fuel tank and extra water tank. It has been to a gaggle of garages and we’ve had to go on mechanics courses… in the desert mechanical problems will have to be solved by us. We’ve also had off-road training, as well as first aid and self-defence training. I’m hoping I wont have to use my newly acquired suturing skills in the near future. Other health preparation included getting vaccines for hep A, hep B, diphtheria, meningitis, cholera, rabies, tetanus, polio, yellow fever and

 

stocking waterproof boxes of malaria tablets for the on coming months.

As we will be living, sleeping, eating, washing, (praying?) in this vehicle my first architectural input has been to consider the interior design. A Tsunami kitchen was axed in favour of a design and fittings borrowed from the yachting world. A high psi water pump, powered from a secondary 12-volt car battery, pumps water through a Nature Pure water purification system feeding into a stainless steel faucet and sink. All of which are from various yachting suppliers. Next to this system is the 40-litre compressor fridge, which again runs from the secondary battery. Tools and spares are housed below false flooring and personal items are placed on high-level shelving. In between we have a bench seat to give some interior flexibility, which folds flat to provide a double bed for emergencies. Despite having a large roof tent we have already slept inside the cab when it wasn’t appropriate/ safe to unveil our large and exposed sleeping quarters.

The final interior detail is a hidden safe, full of the documents required for passage through numerous countries, including the costly carnet de passage (a tax required by some counties to prevent the vehicle being dumped or sold), vehicle insurance, personal insurance, yellow fever certificates, translations of passports and intentions, letters from banks, letters from the charity, letters from our respective firms and an array of currencies.

Sitting in the Copacabana café on Main Street sipping latte in the sun, it is impossible to understand how gruelling, arduous and riddled with challenges the next few months will be. Arguably with so many unanswered questions, we may not be able to achieve as much as we hope in terms of realising these shelters. But if we can visit some of these clinics, collate vital missing information and develop a shelter template that can be easily replicated, then this expedition can act as the platform for future development and relief across Africa.

Jon will be reporting from Africa every month for WAN keeping you up to date with the trials and lessons from his journey.

Editorial


 
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