Malawi, Africa: The 10-Day Rising of an Earthship Eco-Center

November 23, 2013 by Frontline Copy

by Faith Attaguile

An Earthship Sustainable Community Center in Malawi

Part of the Kapita Earthshp Community Center Build Team. Photo: Deborah Binder

As Earthship volunteers, we came from around the world. As Mzimba District villagers, they came from the most rural part of Malawi. We gathered together to build an eco-center for 38 villages and 5,000 people. What kind of structure could serve their diverse needs, yet be self-sustaining at the same time?

An Earthship Idea Takes Root

The extreme isolation of people soon to become our friends meant that whatever structure they chose must be self-sustainable. The building would be so far away from any infrastructure, it would have to:

  • Be built from readily available and recycled materials
  • Harvest its own water
  • Produce its own solar energy
  • Treat its own sewage on site
  • Create its own thermal/solar heating and cooling
  • Produce its own food

They had heard about a company that incorporated all these principles into their building designs: Earthship Biotecture. Located in the high desert area of Taos, New Mexico, the company was founded by Michael Reynolds of Garbage Warrior fame.

So they contacted Michael and asked him to suggest a design best fitted for their community center needs. He offered his Earthship flower design.

Earthship Eco-Center Flower Model Earthship Eco-Center Flower Model 2










Two years previously he had begun a similar project based on the same design in Sierra Leone where, after the Earthship crew left, people had completed the center on their own.

Mike was eager to duplicate that experience in Malawi.

He comments, “Water. Sewage. Power. Garbage. Food. Shelter. It’s about putting all of those things on a different course so that they maybe make people’s life a little more friendly with the planet.”

The Earthship flower design is simple. The eight petals make eight rooms fanning around the middle that contains cisterns. Rainwater from the roofs drain into these cisterns for water storage.

Between each room are toilets and showers that use this collected rainwater for flushing and washing.

The used water is then processed and channeled into botanical cells dug around the exterior of the flower design, providing nutrients for food growing in these cells.

Earthship Eco-Center

The Earthship flower design makes a direct water collection line from roof, to cisterns, to toilet/shower and finally to botanical cell planters encircling the eco-structure. In a rural setting where pit toilets and bucket showers rule the day - this is a unique and exciting way to use and recycle water.

Carrying water to Earthship eco-center build site

Photo: Nicole Cordero

But in a place where women have to carry all potable water long distances on a daily basis - this rainwater catchment and water recycling technique is a life-changing, revolutionary idea.





Let the Earthship Build Begin…

Once the people decided to use the Earthship flower design for their eco-community center, the actual build could begin.

So on October 7, 2013, 70 volunteers from around the world came to the rural district of Mzimba to help set sail to Malawi’s first Earthship project. We came with two goals.

  1. Complete two rooms, two toilets and one shower in 2 weeks.
  2. Achieve this goal working side-by-side with villager volunteers learning the sustainable building techniques necessary for them to be able to complete the rest of the structure on their own.

We reached the first goal in 10 days, completing two rooms, two toilets and one shower. And we also began a third room. And we placed the tire foundation for the remaining five rooms, three toilets and one shower – no small feat!

Here’s a fast-action video by Earthship volunteer Patrick Lunt, showing the entire build in a little over three minutes:

My journal of the build, complete with many amazing photos, is here:

Earthship Sustainable Eco-Center Build in Malawi

We Reached Our Goals, But What Did We Learn?

We learned about community, family, cultural respect, and sustainable building techniques.

We learned about resiliency from people who must be so in order to survive.

We learned about women’s work in a new way. We discovered how precious  water becomes when it’s not readily available.

And we experienced the great joy that comes from picking up a shovel, applying people power, transforming a grim landscape into a nurturing one - and changing the lives of all participants forever.

As Rosa  says in Federica Mighlio and Assesandro Turci’s video below,

red quotesYes, it’s hard on the body. The sun is hard on the body as well. The physical stuff? Yeah, you have to pound tires, and it’s hot and it’s sweaty but…we get to come here and gift something, so it kinda becomes secondary, and you just, you just let it go, like the ants in the tent. And, you know, maybe it’s not the food you would choose, and it’s hot, and dirty, and it’s difficult to communicate… but … it’s all secondary….”

Watch their inspiring video:

KAPITA EARTHSHIP, an eco-building in "The Warm Heart of Africa" from KLAR on Vimeo.

Would you like to become part of the Earthship family by helping the Mzimba District people complete the rest of their center by August 2014? Discover how you can do that, right here!

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