The School Construction Project: How and why it started

How exactly did Start Somewhere start and develop into the organization we know today? In this post, Oliver von Malm gives insight into our past and explains why we are building a school in Kibera.

It is 2011 and the young architecture student Oliver von Malm is backpacking through Kenya and Tanzania. He strands in Nairobi, with hardly any money left and no idea as to what he could do here. An employee of the hostel he was staying at suggested that he should take a tour of the Kibera slum. For the price of five euros, a resident of the slum would pick Oliver up from the hostel and guide him through the slum village. The money would be used for charitable purposes. Upon arrival in Kibera, Olli met a couple of dedicated teachers who had founded two schools on their own.

Oloo's Children Centre

“The tour guide led me to a corrugated iron hut where 30 children went to school to. He told me that he taught there during the day and worked extra hours at night to provide the children with a daily meal. I got to know many committed people. And then I realized where precisely help is needed. So I just ‚started somewhere‘.”

Oliver von Malm

Thanks to donations and the personal commitment of many people, Start Somewhere was able to achieve a lot in the schools: Students now received two daily meals, school uniforms and school trips. We also provided teaching materials and equipment for the classrooms. We were especially happy that since then we are able to pay a small salary to the teachers so that they no longer needed to work at night to provide the children food.

In the following years, the Oloo’s Children Centre, one of the two schools that Start Somewhere supports, was renovated again and again. As the conditions there improved, the number of pupils increased. Due to this growth, the heat in the classrooms, and hygiene problems, the slum dwellers asked Oliver to design a new school building for them. This was the starting point for Oliver’s master’s thesis in 2016, in which he developed the basic idea for a flexible and affordable building system that is later produced by the slum dwellers themselves. To enable Oliver to concentrate fully on his master’s thesis and the development of the prototypes, he founded the non-profit association Start Somewhere e.V. together with friends and family.

Visualization School

“I was very happy that I could use my background in architecture to help the people of Kibera. I wanted to give them the opportunity to build homes that are safe, clean and stable. Of course, our building system and the concrete hollow brick is not the solution to all problems. Economic factors also play a big role. Reasonable wages of the stone manufacturers and the construction workers are important so that they can use the stones themselves. I would be incredibly happy if our building system made life a little easier for the people of Kibera.“