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A Personal Confession

” December 2009, an early morning bus is leaving Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, heading in the direction of Tanzania. When I close my eyes I have the impression we are driving on a dirt road, but this is only due to the poor condition of the old bus: the beautiful landscape of Southern Kenya is crossed by newly-built tarmac road. A few hours later I see a big sign “United Republic of Tanzania.” I am ready to start my adventure in this huge country. The bus continues via Arusha and passes more beautiful landscapes and different vegetation, from a forest around Mount Meru to the dry plains of the Maasai land. The bus finally arrives in Moshi in the late afternoon. Stepping off the bus I am overwhelmed by taxi drivers, fruit sellers and luggage porters who are looking for an opportunity. I have practiced my first words of Swahili, one of the national languages and the most spoken language in Tanzania. The town of Moshi looks rather small although it has a population of 185 000 inhabitants. The feeling of “small” could be due to the giant mountain that rises at the edge of Moshi town. Mount Kilimanjaro is, with its 5895 meters, the largest freestanding mountain in the world. That is not the only thing that makes Moshi notable as an African town. The mainland of Tanzania is mostly Christian but the diversity of religions in Moshi is remarkable, especially because of the close proximity in which different religions co-exist. On the main street in Moshi there is a Cathedral, a Hindu temple and an Islamic Mosque only few hundred meters apart from each other. I arrive at the house where I will be staying, and the Maasai guard of the house welcomes me.

Six years later, I still live in the same house, but many of my first impression changed. When I arrived in Tanzania, I looked at this beautiful country through the eyes of a young, Western traveler with many ideals. What was supposed to be a place to travel through became a new home for me. A place I felt so comfortable in, I did not only want to live in but also work in and use my professional background as an architect to try to make a change for the people I met. Since when I graduated as an architect and we (me and Msafiri Mollel) started C-re-a.i.d. changes have occured in my ideas and ideals. I have changed my perception about architecture and what architecture means when the architect is working with people in poverty. On a differen level are my findings on how people (in this case, the people with whom I work) experience architectural interventions conducted by Western architects. “

I graduated as an architect in 2008 from St-Lucas Brussels. After working in Amsterdam for one year, I decided to make one last big trip to see the world before settling down into professional life. The plan was to travel one year through Africa, starting in Ethiopia and ending in South Africa. After two months travelling through Kenya and Ethiopia, and ending in South Africa. After two months travelling through Kenya and Ethipia, I arrived in Tanzania, where my first stop was Moshi. From that point I did not continue my travel further through Africa. Moshi intrigued me and I fell in love with the town. Within a few months, I was able to communicate in Swahili. Inspired by the beautiful landscape, Mount Kilimanjaro, and the extremely welcoming people, I had the feeling I could make a difference here. I started volunteering in a center for street children where I made both large and small architectural interventions. I noticed how these interventions led to more changes and created a chain reaction among the beneficiaries. One of these interventions made me realize that architecture, as in a material and social intervention, can be a starting point from where people will give it meaning. As a practical minded architect I noticed how the children living in this center for street children had no place for their clothes. Clothes were on the floor, on the clothesline outside and kept under their mattress. I decided to build a closet where each child would have an individual space to put his or her clothes. I gave the closet a nice color and name-tagged every box in there. Several days later I noticed how most of the children were now folding their clothes, hanging pictures in their personal box and spend time to personalize their little space. Whereas before clothes did not seem to matter to them, now they put a huge effort to keep their things clean and organized. A local architect once told me “An architect can only give birth to a building. It is the surrounding and community that will raise that building to what it will finally become”.

The project that C-re-a.i.d. conducts, document my changed perception and purpose of my work in Moshi, through the experience of conducting projects and my study in antropologhy. As an architect I was trained to see material as the focus point. Interventions undertaken in the built environment led to questions about how people interpret these changes. I went to look for answers in Cultures and development studies, hosted by the anthropology department of KU Leuven. In the en, and I ended up addressing my research into the possibilities of architecture for people confronted with poverty, the ways in which people receive and respond to material changes in their close physical environment and questioning myself and all those involved with C-re-a.i.d. whether it is possible for a material change in a person’s environment to have an impact on poverty.

Freya Candel

Executive Director & Co-Funder of C-re-a.i.d. 

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