Ropi is a village of the Siraro region, in the central part of Ethiopia, where economy is mainly based on agriculture and cattle breeding. The total lack of opportunities for young generations has pushed them to go abroad, especially in states of Arabian Peninsula or in South Africa, in order to find other employment chances: every month groups of youngsters leave Ropi and organize a goodbye party called shignit (marriage in oromo language).
For this “blessed event” the family of the emigrant comes to the point of selling most of its belongings to allow him to leave. In most cases it is only smoke an mirrors sold by man traders to poor people, leaving everything they have to follow the dream of a new life far from indigence. Many emigrants die during the long travel or are imprisoned because of illegal transit in foreign states, others become slaves or are submitted to exhausting shifts for little amount of money that they will send to family in homeland. The real condition of life is not communicated to parents or to community that will continue to be deluded by the idea of an imaginary reality of escape.
Nu’u Fi Nu’u cooperative was founded by 16 boys and girls, from 17 to 30 years old, that decided not to follow their peers but to try to change their condition staying together in their mother country. Nu’u Fi Nu’u in Oromo language means “Us for Us”, and this is the purpose of their active reaction to the lack of possibilities in Ropi: the need to change from the inside the chances of the community not going away leaving families and land but creating a better future for a larger number of people leaving in the same place. They wanted to be an example for the youngsters of the village, they wanted to work together.
In Ropi there are 7 ethnic groups with very complex and multi-colored patois. Since oromo is the school official language, it was proved that children from other ethnic groups are disadvantaged in the educational path. The activities of the Kindergarten are conceived as to overcome the linguistic disparity and to allow children from other ethnic groups to have the basis of oromo code needful to start the primary school education at the same level of the others. The activities of the first year are all set up in oromo, from the second year the children start to learn the basis of amharic language (the national language) and only in the third year they start to learn few words and simple sentences in english.
Furthermore, since Ethiopian educational system doesn’t provide any service to preschool children, they spend their time looking after the cattle or inside the family hut where the fire is always lit creating an unhealthful environment for children. The kindergarten project is supposed to be an alternative tool for the growth of a frail age group, a way to develop, also through architecture, a stimulating environment that could allow small children to play, discover and - at the same time - to learn the official school language.
The kindergarten area was supposed to be a village in miniature: all the elements are disposed around a small square creating a cozy space. Besides the main building, there are small huts where children can play or rest in hottest hours of the day.
The big gojobet has a diameter of 12 meter and it is conceived as a half-opened space revolving around the most important element of the tradition: the central pole. In Ethiopian culture it symbolizes the link between sky and earth and it is the first step in the building of every new hut. The inner space of the big gojobet is divided in two half-circles: one has a higher cement floor and a wall made by mud bricks with small openings creating funny light effects. In this space children take their lessons and play educational games. The other space has a clay court floor and it is open on the perimeter; the stoned foundation becomes here a seating and the supporting poles of the roof create paths for pupils. Here they can have breakfast, play and dance. The whole environment is designed so to stimulate the eye of the child: walls are not linear but wave-shaped defining small recesses where it is possible to sit down; the wall frame, with slanting bricks, is characterized by small openings on the playground.
This land is characterized by a deep soil depletion and an extensive desertification due to years of intensive corn farming and to the runaway diffusion of eucalyptus trees plantations, the main building material in rural areas.
Eucalyptus was imported during Menelik’s Empire around 1880. Someone believes that the name of the capital Addis Ababa, that in amharic means “new flower”, comes from that event. Now is the most widespread genus of arboreal plant in Ethiopia but its use can cause locally serious environmental problems: around each single tree, within a 20 meters range, the soil becomes barren for several years and unsuitable for any kind of farming. As consequence, wastelands during heavy rainy seasons are dug by the water turning into small canyons.
As said in the introduction, Nu'u Fi Nu'u cooperative pooled the first cooperative in Ropi specialized in construction with earth blocks, formerly used in Ethiopia but replaced by wood, applied to traditional layouts as answers to land exploitation caused by intensive use of wood in settlement construction.
In Ethiopian society korkorobets and gojobets are the visual distinction between rich people and poor people. The korkoro is a thin metal sheet imported from town, and in a small village means that the owner has enough money to cover both the supply and the transportation.
On the other side, the roof of the gojobet is made by local straw and represents the cheapest solution for farmers that can collect it from their own fields.
Even if metal roofing is a symbol of economic welfare, isn’t the smarter technology in such a latitude because mixed to the hot temperature and the high insulation, it creates bad living conditions inside huts. Moreover, as imported industrial material, it couldn’t be define as “sustainable”, both economically and environmentally.