The infrastructure of a nation is the beating heart of economic security for its citizens. Often the first casualties of conflict are the roads, bridges, electrical grids and water pipes that help people live their lives. Our historical focus on shelter has granted SFL with great capacity for construction, which has been expanded and refined over the years to form a new core comptency for us, infrastructure reconstruction. For nearly a decade, SFL has been rebuilding infrastructure in remote areas of the world, where a quality road can make the difference between a farmer getting their crop to market or spoiled in the field. Reliable electricity can mean needed medicine and food being kept, or discarded. And potable water delivery is the defining line between a positive health outcome or illness. At SFL, we believe shelter means more than just a roof and four walls, it is a linchpin of a stable society.
Our homes are a part of life that many of us may take for granted. At SFL, we believe that shelters are the foundation for a thriving and stable society. We have found that shelters offer hope to displaced families and create a haven of physical, emotional, and social safety. Shelters are also a stepping-stone to rebuilding lives and a livelihood and provide a platform for launching home-based businesses. Shelter creates community in ways that all other humanitarian efforts cannot.
SFL has been addressing the need for shelter through the construction of both transitional and permanent homes in countries uprooted by conflict and disaster. SFL provides beneficiaries with the training, tools, and materials necessary to build their own homes. Beneficiary households have the primary responsibility for constructing their shelters and provide all unskilled labor and some materials. SFL supplies the majority of construction materials, which are purchased locally whenever available.
When shelters are urgently needed and there is inadequate time to construct permanent shelters, SFL enables beneficiaries to build durable transitional shelters. These shelters are temporary in nature, but utilize basic materials which can be reused in the construction of a permanent home in the future. Transitional shelters provide immediate relief to untenable living situations while offering a sustainable, long-term benefit. They are preferable to the use of tents, which are temporary and not able to withstand prolonged use over time.
Most SFL shelter projects consist of building permanent, durable shelters that utilize local architecture and simple designs that are able to better withstand earthquakes and other natural disasters. Construction materials vary from country to country depending on local culture and customs, but common materials include handmade mud bricks, concrete blocks, tin sheeting, wood, and clay tiles. Houses are largely constructed by the beneficiary family with support, training, tools, and materials supplied by SFL.
SFL has received international recognition for implementing shelter designs that incorporate simple, cost-effective technical measures that reduce the damage from earthquakes and other disasters. Construction techniques include reinforced walls, rigid wooden ring beams, corner bracing, and strategic door and window location. Beneficiaries who live in earthquake zones also receive awareness and preparedness training to equip them with the skills and knowledge to survive future disasters.
"Only the educated are free."
In a courtyard located in the city of Taloqan, group after group of young girls sat in the dirt, attending primary school for the first time since the Taliban were forced out of power in Afghanistan. The headmaster explained, "We have so little money. We do not have classrooms. We don't have any books, no desks, not even mats for the children to sit on." Astonishingly, around 2,500 girls attended school here, on property with a building that offered only a few tiny classrooms. Many of the young girls walked over an hour each way from outlying villages, eager for the chance to learn. "Our schools were destroyed during the war, so now we hold classes here, out in the open under the hot sun and even in the cold months. Can you please help us?"
It is hard to imagine our own young children walking over an hour one way to sit outside on the ground to attend first grade. But this is the reality in many countries for those lucky enough to even have a school to attend. SFL builds schools in communities where none exist because we believe that a secure society is founded in large part on the education of its people. Schools create a permanent platform for education, help to stabilize the community, and foster a sense of local pride. Ultimately, schools offer hope and freedom to future generations who can chart a new course for their lives and for their country.
"...He had compassion on them and healed their sick."
– Matthew 14:14
Think back to the last time you visited the emergency room. Perhaps you cut your foot on a nail and needed stitches; or maybe your child was burning with a 104-degree fever. As harrowing and fearful as that experience might have seemed, imagine if there had been no emergency room. What if the nearest health clinic were fifty miles away and you didn't have transportation? What if the doctors were forced to perform their operations under a tarp or in a bombed out building?
In some of the world's poorest countries, this nightmare is a reality. SFL believes that part of restoring a life is helping the person to be physically healed. But to be sustainable, assistance must go beyond emergency health interventions. SFL saves lives by building clinics for communities that don't have basic health facilities. Constructing medical facilities helps to stabilize a community and is critical in establishing accessible and permanent health services to the poor and suffering. To ensure sustainability, SFL builds clinics where governments or partnering medical organizations can provide training programs, medical equipment, and committed staff to operate the new facility. These new clinics serve as a symbol of hope in the community and residents can rest easier knowing that permanent health facilities are within reach.
"... a time to tear down and a time to build."
– Ecclesiastes 3:3
Take a moment to think about your own urban environment and the physical components that make it a flourishing city. Houses and buildings are probably what first come to mind. But when you consider the very foundation of a community, you start to understand the significance of the urban landscape: roads, bridges, water systems, public sanitation, and local markets. These elements make up the infrastructure of a city or village, and their reconstruction is essential in transforming lands devastated by conflict and disaster into sustainable and thriving communities.
After the air we breathe, clean water is the most critical of all human needs. SFL water projects take on a variety of forms depending on the country and local need. Past projects have included emergency water distribution, water wells, community hand pumps, irrigation canals, erosion controls, and rainwater collection systems.
In developing countries, inadequate sanitation results in death and disease. SFL sanitation projects focus on constructing latrines and implementing refuse collection and education programs. All sanitation construction activities are complemented by community health and hygiene training which is offered to beneficiaries and local residents.
Reconstructing roads and bridges not only makes transportation by vehicle, horse, or donkey more convenient, but also serves to reestablish physical linkages and improve access to residential areas, markets, schools, clinics, agricultural areas, and other sectors. SFL repairs primary, secondary, and tertiary roads along with rebuilding bridges, all of which reconnect communities and economies.
The reconstruction of the physical market place is an important step in restoring a local economy. SFL enables communities to rebuild market structures that encourage the sale of goods, increase household incomes, and provide a centralized marketplace. Structures include simple produce stalls, storage buildings, processing facilities, and public marketplaces.
Shelter is more than a roof and four walls...