On the central plateau of Kenya, near the lush city of Nyeri, the windswept arid town of Mweiga stands in the shadow of Mount Kenya.  Locals diligently farm the land, but their livelihoods are beholden to an average of 6” of rain per year.  Despite the lack of water, the people have a thirst to provide their kids with a better life, and they recently organized to build their first local primary school.  With the support of the new town council, provincial leaders, financial support from the Nobelity Project, and design assistance from local architects, engineers, and Architecture for Humanity, the people of Mweiga are now constructing a secondary school, and a special multipurpose structure known as the Mahiga Hope High School Rainwater Court

When constructed, the Rainwater Court will provide a covered space for youth to engage in a variety of sports: basketball, volleyball, netball, football and badminton.  The space will also be open to community members for special events, movie nights, performances, and market days.  But above all, the expansive roof of the covered structure was conceived of and constructed to collect precious water for consumption and use.

The court covers 4,850 square feet, the soaring roof canopy that covers the court can collect an estimated 90,000 liters of water per year. When rainstorms occur, water immediately drains into two tanks, located at the down slope side of the roof.  In total, the tanks will hold up to 30,000 liters and is connected to a UV purification system that renders the water for potable use – to provide meals for primary and secondary school children, and to water plants and crops on site.  The roof also performs dual duties; an array of PV panels mounted on the roof will help generate enough electricity to light the facility at night for sporting events or community gatherings. 

The space is designed for flexibility and diverse programmatic uses.  Between the two storage tanks are storage spaces for sporting equipment and an elevated platform and backdrop to serve as a stage for performances, a surface to project movies, or a spectator area. It will be Mweiga’s first community meeting space and will serve as a covered farmers market. 

Perhaps the most important aspect of the project is that the project has been designed and constructed with daily input from the community.  Architecture for Humanity’s Design Fellow, Greg Elsner, lives in Mweiga and actively engages with the children, their families and local officials in Mweiga and Nyeri Province.  “Living with the community has been the most powerful part of the experience for me. The community design meetings were awesome; it’s really exciting to watch the community share their ideas, volunteer in full force, and truly take the pride and ownership in the project.”  The total design and construction process has taken a little over one year and the final project is estimated to be completed in August 2010.

Mahiga Hope High School hopes to embody the spirit and ambition that the community holds for its children.  Michael Jones, Project Manager for Architecture for Humanity, cannot underemphasize the community value of the project, “The site comes alive with community members at every opportunity to contribute.”  While the Rainwater Court is not a classroom specifically designed for academic achievement, its multipurpose nature intends to provide the resources necessary to empower the youth and extended community of Mweiga physically, spiritually and mentally, through the gift of water, the gift of sport, and the gift of community activity.

Elaine Uang currently works at Feldman Architecture and formerly worked with Architecture for Humanity where she had the good fortune to visit Mahiga High at the start of the project.