We are very excited to be a part of this project. A 2,500 gallon Original Rainwater Pillow collects water from the home’s roof. The water flows thru a four stage UV light purifcation system before entering the home for complete indoor use.
Houses for Africa: Colom’s vision on display in prototype
Carmen K. Sisson - August 23, 2012 10:26:14 AM
It quickly became apparent why Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chose to ride with Wil Colom rather than go to New Hope alone Wednesday.
Even with the address in hand and a rough idea of what he would find on Lauren Road, Wicker still might have driven past his destination, assuming the tidy houses on the pine-strewn lot were an ordinary subdivision.
The shine in Colom’s eyes as he and Wicker walked up the driveway told a different story: He believes these simple structures will revolutionize Africa in the same way cellular technology has revolutionized the world.
Colom, an attorney and philanthropist, has spent eight years working on this project, and Wicker has been involved from its conception, when Quality Housing was little more than the skeletal framework of a larger-than-life dream.
Accompanied by his business partner, Utah lawyer James Parkinson, and other business owners from around the country, Colom entered one of the houses and walked into the kitchen.
When he turned on the faucet and clean water spilled from the spigot, the collective reaction was amazement. Everyone crowded around him, thrusting styrofoam cups to be filled.
Colom took the first swallow. It tasted like the future.
A call to action
Colom’s vision of affordable housing in Africa began nearly a decade ago on the Serengeti Plain.
As he stood beside a scarlet-clad Maasai warrior, the man reached beneath his robe and extracted an object. There, among a tribe of semi-nomadic people who lived by the spear, Colom witnessed an elder being summoned — by cell phone.
Solar power kept the phone charged; a gas generator powered the cellular tower.
But the continent remains besieged with problems. Colom believes houses like the ones he and Parkinson are building will solve the housing shortage and improve the health and quality of life for residents.
The idea is simple: Design a home made of cheap, readily-available materials that can be shipped overseas for assembly and mortgage the homes to middle-class families.
Success has proven more difficult. As he walked around the prototypes Wednesday, Colom pointed out the reason each design was discarded.
The goal was to find a house that could be built for $62,000 in the United States and built and mortgaged in Africa for around $35,000. But there were setbacks.
The dome-shaped house was easy to frame and roof but the interior was too expensive. The wire mesh and sprayed concrete house was expensive and required too much equipment and highly-skilled labor.
These homes will be rented. The latest creation, made entirely of concrete, steel and PVC siding, will be the testing ground for future plans.
The houses offer a self-sustaining solution utilizing solar and wind power and rainwater collected and transformed into potable water. Someday, wastewater may be transformed into methane gas for cooking.
A sustainable dream must make economic sense, Colom and Parkinson believe, and they feel they’ve finally hit upon a formula to commercialize the venture and ensure its expansion.
A helping hand
Wicker’s role is that of armchair quarterback, public relations liaison, wheel-greaser and granter of wishes.
For him, it offers an equally appealing promise — the marrying of American jobs and an African growth strategy built upon exports, economic development and global trade competition.
Colom and Parkinson have not been successful in securing federal funding; instead, the prototypes have been financed privately.
But Wicker believes he can change that by involving Overseas Product Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
OPIC, a federal agency, advances U.S. foreign policy by providing investors with financing, bank guarantees, political risk insurance and private equity investment funds, helping U.S. businesses establish themselves overseas in emerging markets. USAID assists foreign countries with social and economic development.
Together, OPIC and USAID may provide Quality Housing with the push it needs to move from concept to completion.
But Colom will never truly be finished. He is always scanning the horizon, looking for ways to improve.
“We want to take this all over east Africa until we drop dead,” Colom said, laughing.
“I’ve never seen anybody like him,” Parkinson responded, shaking his head.
Carmen K. Sisson covers education, family, health, and community issues. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter at cksDispatch.