For almost a year now Arise Africa has been building a complex in Zambia. This will serve as our headquarters. After years and years of storing donations and supplies in the Arise Home, staff houses etc. we needed a "hub." Running our ministry and the logistics was just too hard to have it spread all over a huge third world city. The Arise Africa office has been in our American's living room, who lives over there (Megan) for the last 3 years. That isn't easy when your staff is at about 25 now. We needed a place where Megan can live full time and not pay high rent, where we have plenty of space for a big office and staff meetings and conferences. We needed a place to house mission trippers and save money on trips. We needed somewhere to store our cars at night and have them safe but not have to pay a parking lot monthly. And most importantly we needed a place where we could invest in expensive solar and back up battery equipment to enable Arise Africa to have constant power. This is a major need in a country that can only provide you power 6 to 12 hours a day.
But as much as we need all of this we also didn't want to spend big dollars on the complex. You see, our vision is outward and for the kids we serve. The complex will be used by the Arise Home kids all the time for sleep overs, hang out times and everything else. Our staff will hang out there all the time and we want to open it up to them to hold Bible studies and have church hang outs. But we don't need to build big and fancy, we need practical and sturdy. We need safe and comfortable for our mission trippers visiting but not fancy. I don't want someone coming over on a trip that needs to be in a fancy place to stay. We aren't in Zambia to serve Americans and make life comfortable for them, and luckily all our of Americans understand that. Our time, efforts, and resources are to serve the children of that country and show everyone the love of Christ. That might sound harsh and we do love all our mission trippers and donors! But we want to spend their money where it directly serves the kids we love so much. We wanted to build a complex where they are happy and comfortable to sleep at night but also we are focusing on what is important and our funds show it. It needs to be simple. And trust us, one day of seeing how most people live in Zambia and going home to the complex that is safe, roomy, comfortable, and has a roof over your head you will think it is a palace.
For quite a few years I have researched shipping container homes. Yes they are the big thing these days and I am here to tell you I thought they were pretty awesome well before they became trendy. I was before the shipping container cool crowd. I have had a shipping container Pinterest board for years and years. I watched the trends of the cost of cement and blocks in Zambia and knew that shipping containers were our cheaper answer.
Last year I sat down with a builder in Zambia and told him my idea of the shipping container complex. After many drawings and strategy meetings he came back to me with a bid that was 1/5 the cost of building the same home out of block and mortar. Suddenly the complex was a reality.
We purchased almost 3 acres of land in a great area that is close to the US Embassy and in a safe part of town. It is also very close to the Arise Homes and our kids ride their bikes to the complex all the time now. The school they attend is a short walk away. One of our community schools we work with is also down the street.
Then we began building the complex out of shipping containers. I would say the project doubled in size by the time it was all said and done! To date (yes we are still adding a few more!) we have a 4,500 square foot headquarters. It is built out of 13 shipping containers that are 40 feet long by 8.5 feet wide each. It is a "U" shape with a massive patio in the middle. The "legs" of the U are where the bedrooms are. (sides of shipping containers cut out) The open space living room and kitchen that is 1,000 square feet is at the base of the "U" where you see the two wooden doors. The upstairs part has two bedrooms in it. It has 5 large bedrooms that could fit 4 to 5 bunk beds each or a king bed with tons of space. It has 5 smaller bedrooms that can fit 2 bunk beds each. There are over 10 bathrooms. We have a huge office! Our builder and Megan spent months and months on the ground in Zambia analyzing and calling me with suggestions or tweaks throughout the project. We have it angled perfectly for the sun and our solar panels. We discussed air flow and insulation. We are all basically container home experts at this point. I can tell you about our foundations and I beam supports.
There also is an awesome back patio off the kitchen that has a great BBQ stand being installed.
And there were moments when I wished I hadn't seen the way Africans build, like the day the crane didn't show up to set up our water tank stand...
Did you see the dude using scaffolding to push the tank?!
We have built a raised bed garden out of shipping container scraps and our gardener, Kennedy is pretty excited about it.
We had gone to some of our donors who gave generously to the project and then we got really lucky (or God just helped us out!) because the South African Rand and Zambian Kwacha weakened against the dollar. Yes, this was sad for Zambia and South Africa but that means our money suddenly went a LONG way. The steel we were purchasing from South Africa became much much cheaper. This enabled us to do more to the project. In fact, we saved so much on the complex we just started building a 1,600 square foot garage next to it for our cars and storage for supplies.
We were so blessed that Highland Park United Methodist Church gave us a grant for all of the solar and back up battery banks we needed. The Lord has continued to put people in our path that have been a major help.
When I was in Zambia in March we again took advantage of the weakened Kwacha and went and purchased all of the furniture locally. We purchased 12 bunk beds, 13 side tables, 3 picnic tables, 13 dining room chairs, 12 dressers, two queen bed frames and more. We went to a trade school where they teach kids how to do carpentry and our order helped them immensely. Arise Africa strongly feels like we must support the local economy in Zambia as much as possible. We buy local at any and all costs that we can. We make sure that our builders use Zambian workers.
The complex is in the home stretch of being finished. Megan has watched over the project like a great "Mamma Hen." She has loved designing certain rooms. In fact she is beyond obsessed with the kitchen and we have had to politely tell her she needs to chill out. Who can blame the girl, she has moved 10 times in the 10 years she has lived in Zambia. This will be her home.
At one point Megan thought she had lost all of the kitchen pulls for the cabinets that she had bought in America in December. (only to discover later that Abraham had been holding on to them because when she moved she had told him to keep them safe) I told Megan that would not be an issue and we could buy the pulls again and bring them over with our first mission trippers this summer. I asked about them a few days later and Megan had pulled all sorts of strings with friends at the US Embassy in Zambia and had new ones shipped in on a special diplomatic bag (within 48 hours) because she wanted to see them on the cabinets so badly. That is our US tax dollars at work people. Megan has connections, she is like the Al Capone of the American missionary Mafia over there.
These next few weeks the finishing touches will be done, furniture moved in, our ever loyal housekeeper Susan moved in, and of course Megan too with our new black lab puppy, Malasha. (means charcoal in the Zambian tribal language) And we plan for this to be the LAST time Megan ever moves in Zambia.
In July we will house our first mission trippers at the complex and we couldn't be more excited. In fact between July and August over 60 people will come and go through the complex. You can start to pray now for our batteries to hold enough power and our solar hot water heaters to provide hot showers for 20 people.
We have done the math and the complex will save Arise Africa $70,000 annually that would have been spent on office and lodging rentals and safe car garages at night. And even with that we wouldn't have had a building with power banks and efficiency would have been hard. We wouldn't have had a huge garage to store all our supplies in one location. We wouldn't have had a complex for our Arise Home kids and staff to come hang out in.
Do you want to help us finish out the complex and get it ready for this summer? There are some things we are needing from America! Consider shopping on our Amazon wishlist to give the complex a house warming gift!
We are so thankful for the Lord's help and orchestration to put people in our path who didn't think we were crazy for building the complex out of shipping containers. I was nervous to go to our donors and tell them my dream, because for some people it sounds absolutely crazy. For a few of them I had to show some shipping container home images for them to get the vision! But they bought in and we are forever grateful for that!
Now let's focus on building for the children of Zambia!