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Architect builds a future for African kids

RICHARD WATTS Times Colonist For the first time in four years, Saanich architect Alan Roy is getting the jitters about meeting his deadlines for building schools in Africa.

RICHARD WATTS

Times Colonist

 

For the first time in four years, Saanich architect Alan Roy is getting the jitters about meeting his deadlines for building schools in Africa.

Right now, Roy’s group, Primary Schools for Africa, is only about halfway to its goal of raising money for a three-classroom building in northern Tanzania. The group has $15,000 but needs a further $18,000.

“This is the first time I am a little bit nervous,” said Roy, 67. “We are further away from our goal than in all the other buildings we have done.”

His school-building work began in 2010 shortly after he fulfilled a life-long dream to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. He had recently been inspired by the book Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. So when his Kilimanjaro guide, a former teacher, explained how desperately schools were need in Tanzania, Roy was moved to act.

Using $40,000 of his own money, he designed and built two small schools. Within a few years he had started work on a total of four schools.

At first, his thoughts were to build small, picturesque schoolhouses like something out of movies. But followup experience taught him it wouldn’t work in rural Tanzania.

Classrooms were just not enough: Transportation problems made it tough for teachers to arrive on time every day, and many of the children were showing up too hungry for instruction.

So Roy designed a school complex of eight separate buildings, including a kitchen, dining room, classrooms from Grades 1 to 7 (the normal school program in Tanzania) and residences for teachers.

Teachers and their families live at the school and tend their gardens, chickens and goats. Students, who arrive every day, can get at least one meal cooked in the kitchen. And it’s of a size that can be locally supported.

“You can’t just build classrooms,” Roy said. “You basically have to build a school community.”

It’s also a model that can grow gradually. New buildings are erected year by year as children progress and new ones come along.

You can start with two classrooms for about 40 students and then build up as they move through their program and younger children arrive.

When the school reaches the completion of its eight buildings, Roy believes it will have reached a size that can be supported by the local community.

Roy said the final building in his design complex, one that has yet to be erected in any of the four schools, is a library and administration office. “We haven’t got to that stage yet.”

Roy is married to Maureen Vanwyck and the couple have three grown sons.

In Tanzania, people have begun calling him Babu Alan, which roughly translates to Grandfather Alan. Some are even calling him Babu Mkubwa, which roughly translates to Senior Grandfather, a reflection of the short life span in Tanzania.

As an architect in Saanich, Roy said he has specialized in designing recreation complexes, such as the Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre and others for the Canadian Armed Forces.

But at this stage in his life, his greatest joy is the schools in Tanzania.

“It has the same sort of stress levels because you have deadlines and so on,” he said. “But it just seems so much more fun.”

For information, go to primaryschoolsforafrica.com.

rwatts@timescolonist.com