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Six Secrets to Creating a Building that Changes Lives

Updated: Jun 4, 2019



As designers and builders, we are passionate about the positive change that good quality buildings can make in people’s lives, which is why we are so excited about being able to support a cause that takes that passion to a whole new level. On September 14th, Harris Calnan will be taking part in the Run to the Beat challenge (donate here) to support Orphans of Ghana, a UK based charity whose principal aim is to raise money for the building of a new school and orphanage for the The Royal Seed Home & School in Ofaakor, on the outskirts of Kasoa, Ghana.So what do you think about when tackling a project like this and what are the secrets to making it a success? We talked to the UK Director of Orphans of Ghana, Gizelle Thorpe, to find out:

1. Walking To School

The original orphanage and school were all on the same piece of land, primarily to reduce costs by making use of shared facilities. Our current project started with the acquisition of additional land for the construction of a new orphanage so it that will be separate from the school.

With the orphanage and school separated, the children have the chance to get away from their school environment and return “home” just like the other kids that also attend the school. Even though the two buildings will only be 100 metres apart, this small, physical distance will translate into enormous benefits for the orphans: the simple act of walking to school will enable them to engage so much more with their surroundings whilst the separation of school and home will also enable them to focus more on their schoolwork.

2. From Wood To Concrete With A Dash Of Colour

The previous facilities were built mostly from wood and were essentially shacks held together by a lot of maintenance and a fair degree of optimism! Inevitably, their lifespan was limited and over the years we have made the move to more permanent, concrete structures.

This allows the school to operate without the fear that lessons will come to a halt just because of an afternoon rain shower. Raw concrete can, however, be dull and depressing and so bright and imaginative colour schemes have been implemented, many of which are designed by the kids themselves, to promote happiness, friendship and hope.

3. Fewer Dormitories And More Classrooms

The original orphanage building comprised of a handful of dormitories that slept up to 40 children each, most of whom did not have proper beds and where infants sometimes had to share cots.

Our plan is to build a collection of much smaller houses that sit next to each other in a kind of mini-neighbourhood. Each house can have its own identity where each child gets their own bed and personal space, giving them a sense of worth and and belonging. In each house there will also be a separate place to prepare food and to eat, where individual households will share mealtimes, helping to promote unity, a stronger sense of a daily regimen as well as making the most of the strong bonds of companionship. Whilst reducing the number of dormitories in the orphanage, conversely, we are increasing the number of classrooms in the school by splitting them up into more manageable sizes. This does mean more teachers and thus, more money, but it is worth the cost because the children get more attention which leads to better school results and happier kids.

4. Keeping It In The Family

We try to make sure that almost every penny of donors money goes towards the cost of building materials whilst most of the manual and unskilled labour is done either by volunteers or by the kids themselves. The children are more than happy to help out and whilst this does save on costs, much more importantly it fosters a sense of community by working towards a common goal. It also gives everyone a massive sense of achievement to be able to turn around at the end of the day and say, “Look what WE built!”

5. Growing Your Own

Just like making the move from wooden sheds to more permanent buildings was about improving stability and making the school less at risk from external forces, we also feel strongly that growing our own food can help bring big benefits.

The newly acquired land proved to be much more fertile and so, after much trial and error, we have also started growing our own crops and fresh vegetables. For the moment, all of the produce is consumed by the school and the orphanage but, with time, we may even be able to sell some to the local community. Some of the children really like working on the crops and they view it as their own little project – it’s incredible to see their enthusiasm and commitment. We also have a small farm with chickens and goats and everyone gets really excited when we get some eggs from the lady chickens!

6. Building Hope With Good Foundations, No Matter How Long It Takes

We are a small charity run entirely by volunteers. We do not generate masses of money and yes, we always need more! But slowly and surely we are building our presence, gaining followers and fundraisers, although it does take time and sometimes we seem to be measuring our progress brick by brick!

But our guiding philosophy is that by providing simple and strong foundations in the early years of children’s lives, both at home and at school, a secure emotional environment can be established which gives them the best chances of future happiness – something which we believe everyone deserves, regardless of where they come from.

With passion, hope and determination, we will get there and in its simplest terms, our project is really just about building a place the kids can call ‘home’ and looking at the best way to do this, even if we have to do it one brick at a time.

If you want to know more about the charity or if you would like to volunteer or get more involved, follow this link.


Gizelle Thorpe from the Orphans of Ghana was talking to Ryan von Ruben.

#fundraising #socialresponsibility

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