School Project wins SEED Award!

Published November 13, 2012

Since May of 2009, we have worked tirelessly as a dedicated team of people on the design of a school in South Sudan. It has been one of the most difficult but most rewarding projects many of us have ever pursued. But just when we were waining in hope, we found out we were awarded an International SEED Award!

Out of 65 submissions from 21 countries, only 6 projects were awarded such an extraordinary honor. The SEED Network and Design Corps have singled out these projects as those which best incorporated social consciousness, community outreach, and sustainability into their designs.

We are humbled and honored.

We want to especially thank all the work behind the scenes and funders who have supported this design effort. This project is just a dream without your support.

A copy of our submission can be downloaded in its entirety here or seen below.

Jury Review: The jury expressed admiration for the beauty and honor of the project and all that it represents as a new beginning for the people of South Sudan. The compelling narrative coupled with a simple, elegant, scalable design solution placed the Jalle School project among the jury’s favorite entries. The project successfully meets the needs of a vulnerable, yet incredibly resilient community with great dignity and innovation.

Criticism: The various measures of success provided in the application could benefit from more quantifiable elements.



The mission of Rebuild Sudan is to encourage, strengthen, and support those whose lives have been devastated in the 21-year-long civil war between north and south Sudan. We aim to provide education to children and youth who have experienced war firsthand, provide clean drinking water for those returning from refugee camps, promote educational and economic opportunities for women, and partner to supply adequate health care in the villages of South Sudan.

rebuilding communities
South Sudanese are returning to their home villages after more than two decades of civil war. Rebuilding their lives is difficult, and there is little infrastructure to support economic growth. For villagers, who have spent decades in refugee camps and who are returning to their war decimated homeland, a permanent school is so much more than a building: This school is a statement of belonging once again to their homeland.

peace education
Due to the annual rainy season and poor facility design, many schools are unable to meet for a large part of the year. By improving the educational facilities, learning can take place for a greater part of the year. Within the building, Rebuild Sudan will collaborate with local leaders and educators to create a contextual peace-building curriculum and a space for the community to work for peace.

sustainable design
Schools and health clinics are often built in the developing world by well-meaning outsiders who do not understand the local climate or available materials. We believe in implementing indigenous design, sourcing readily available, local materials, and applying design technology that responds naturally to heating, cooling and light.


The Lost Boys of South Sudan are a group of more than 27,000 Dinka boys who were displaced and/or orphaned during the Second Sudanese Civil War. Most of the boys were separated from their families when government troops from the North attacked their villages of the South, killing and raping many of the civilian inhabitants. The younger boys (under age 12) survived in large numbers because they were away tending cattle or were able to escape into the nearby jungles. Orphaned and with no support, these boys banded together and made two epic thousand-mile journeys, first to a relief camp in Ethiopia. Four years later, civil war broke out in Ethiopia. The boys were forced cross the crocodile-infested Gilo river and walk another thousand miles to Kenya. Those who survived the trek evaded thirst, starvation, wild animals, insects, disease, and one of the bloodiest wars of the 20th century. Experts say the Lost Boys are among the most badly war-traumatized children ever examined.

The story of Rebuild Sudan starts with one of these Lost Boys: Michael Kuany is the founder of our organization, the main driver, and a continual inspiration for what we do. While in both the Ethiopian and Kenyan camps, Michael used to ask the UN aid workers to teach him English words which he would in turn teach to his friends. Since his youth, Michael has been committed to education. He was one of 3000 Lost Boys given an opportunity in 2001 by the US Government to come to the United States to pursue his education. Now armed with both a B Arts in International Development and a Masters in Conflict Transformation, Michael is a prominent leader in the rebuilding process of South Sudan. Michael’s vision of rebuilding and peace is not just for his home village, but for the entire country he calls home.

When he returned in 2006 to his people and family of Jalle Payam for the first time in 20 years. He spoke at length with the community on their ideas for development: How could he help them rebuild? The resounding request from his people was a future for their children through education. They wanted a building they did not have to rebuild after each rainy season, a building that would represent hope after decades of war. Michael and his community believe education with an emphasis on peace is essential to halting the destructive patterns of war in South Sudan.


In 1956, Sudan gained independence from its colonial overseer, Britain. The Arab North was established as the governing body, leaving the black southerners without equal governance and still under oppression. In hopes of achieving representation and regional autonomy, the South started the first Sudanese Civil war (1955-1972). A brief interlude of peace was experienced until the President in the north declared all of Sudan an Islamic state under Shari’a law. The Second Civil war (1983-2005) began when the Southern People’s Liberation Army arose in protest and spawned 21 years of fighting between the regions. It is estimated that 2.5 million people were killed, and 5 million South Sudanese were displaced. The conclusion of this war finally came with the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. This agreement provided for the referendum that saw the South Sudanese vote to become an independent nation. On July 9th, 2011, The Republic of South Sudan became the world’s 193rd nation.

There are approximately 10.5 million people in South Sudan and 35,000 in the Jalle Payam region. Jalle Payam, our partner community, primarily consists of the Dinka tribe, which is the largest ethnic tribe in South Sudan consisting of 23 other smaller tribes. The Dinka, an agripastoral people who rely heavily on cattle herding and growing grains on the land for their sustenance, generally occupy the Nile basin.

It is estimated that more than 80% of the population cannot read or write. There are proportionately fewer girls going to school in South Sudan than in any other country in the world; fewer than 6% of girls complete primary education, and the female illiteracy rate is amongst the highest in the world.

With war defining most of Sudan’s national history, virtually all-modern development is absent from South Sudan. War not only ravaged the country leaving behind desolation, but it prevented the development of infrastructure and basic services. Many previously existing buildings were destroyed during the war or deteriorated with neglect.


Building a school is Rebuild Sudan’s inaugural project, and our intent is to accomplish this in a collaborative, responsible manner. The community expressed many needs which we used as guiding principles for this project:

For a people displaced by war, a permanent structure represents more than just shelter; it is a statement of belonging once again to their homeland and hope for the future. We aim to build a safe and permanent structure that doesn’t need to be rebuilt each year when the land floods. We have designed a school to exceed the standards of UNICEF’s Child Friendly schools.

community involvement
We were invited by and have worked with the community from the start to build a school that will best meet their needs. The school will also serve as a community center by creating a large space for gathering, along with public access to books and computers.

economic investment
Building in South Sudan is one of the most expensive countries in Africa in which to build due to the lack of supplies and infrastructure. We are utilizing appropriate technology, relying on local labor and leadership, and tightly managing our budget to make sure our school is competitive with any other similar school project.

A building in this climate can easily and unintentionally become uninhabitable – hotter, darker, and more humid than outside under a tree! Our deceptively simple design has been born from extensive fluid mechanics modeling, careful attention paid to building orientation, proper shading, prevailing winds, and window size and placement used to create the most comfortable and practical learning environment possible.

technical notes

Building in this location and context presents many challenges. Below is a summary of the primary site-specific issues we have encountered and how we have responded to them through design.

access and scarcity of materials
South Sudan’s infrastructure has been devastated by years of war, and building supplies are largely imported from Uganda making them very expensive locally. Even basic materials, such as stone, gravel, cement, and brick must be transported from Juba, nearly 10 hours away. A load of aggregate that in the US would cost $100, costs $1200 delivered to our project. The site is very remote and the only road into the area is impassable during much of the rainy season. Our site was given to us by the community; therefore, changing the location was not an option.

Our solution to these problems was to use a prefabricated system and minimize the use of concrete. All structural elements have been made off-site using light gauge steel and shipped as a bolt-together kit. All walls are non-bearing and therefore can be made less dense using clay tile, wood, and a mix of indigenous material made on site by the community.

soil conditions and seasonal flooding
The construction season is only 4 months long due to seasonal rains. The entire region is subject to localized flooding during heavy rains. The soil is expansive clay known locally as Black Cotton Soil. It is a member of the clay vertisol family and is extremely difficult to build on; when dry, it is as hard as concrete, when wet it has the shear strength of a mudslide. The top 5 feet of soil is in constant motion with the swelling and shrinking of the clay caused by seasonal rains and significant flooding. Typically, the top six feet (or more) of soil would be removed and backfilled with gravel to prevent cracking and buckling of the foundation and floor. However, due to the expense of transporting appropriate fill material, this is not an option. Alternatively, very heavy engineered concrete floors and footings can counter the pressures exerted by the swelling clay but large quantities of concrete are too heavy to be transported to the site efficiently.

Rather than constructing a 9300 square foot slab on grade, the floor is elevated and supported by the main structural steelwork. There are a total of 91 footings that bear at a depth beneath the active soil layer. Our initial design called for using helical piers exclusively for this purpose. Due to a shortened development schedule and difficulties encountered on-site, Phase 1 (52 footings) will be constructed of conventional deep concrete footings and piers. Phase 2 (Floor, 39 footings) will incorporate helical piers. This simple screw foundation, while new to the region, was developed in the 1800s and is easily replicable within current regional manufacturing. We have shared this product with many contractors and developers in the area who are excited to adopt this technology after they see our completed school.

harsh climate conditions
In addition to seasonal flooding, the region is subject to an extreme equatorial climate. Many schools we visited had been abandoned because they essentially baked the students in rooms made with sheet metal walls and ceilings. Without careful planning, interior temperatures could easily exceed exterior temperatures and there is no electricity available for air conditioning.

To address these drastic climate challenges, we utilized sophisticated computer modeling software that allowed our designers to predict how the building would perform on site. Through this modeling, we were able to adjust the room sizes, window opening locations, and roof overhangs to optimize natural ventilation and daylight. Extensive use of shading, high mass exterior walls, strategic insulation, cross ventilation and wind scoops, are all put into practice with this design.

One of the biggest complaints we heard from teachers and administrators is that they could not teach for half of the year because of the extensive rains and the loud noise it made against the metal roofs of the classrooms.

Therefore, we’ve created a double-layer roof system. The outer layer is sheet metal, the only available roofing material in the region. But on the other side of the roofing beams is another layer of thatch, common in the village houses. The air space between the two layers not only reduces the sound of the rain, but serves as a ventilation stack in each of the classrooms and removes the hot air from direct sunlight on the roof before it has a chance to heat the classroom.

participation methods

We have aimed to learn from and collaborate with our community and stakeholders in the project from the start. The ways in which we have done this are as follows:

  • Project vision and leadership by indigenous community member
  • Invitation by the community for our organization to lead process; community hosted us on each visit
  • Invitation to discuss goals with local elders, county, state, and national officials
  • Interviews with community on site issues
  • Tours led by community members of other area schools for comparison
  • Discussions with another NGO who attempted to build school in similar area to learn from their mistakes.
  • Multiple meetings with Ministry of Education who expressed interest in replicating design in other projects
  • Design feedback and support from local contractors
  • On-site project management and material guarding by community members

metrics of success

Projects of this scale have both tangible and intangible metrics for success. We intend to evaluate our project’s results and learn from its failures. Success for us will be measured in the following ways:

  • School will be in operation and well attended; school will withstand the yearly flooding
  • Students will be able to attend school even during the rains
  • Increased percentage of students from region will enroll and finish primary school compared to state average,
  • Increased percentage of students will go on to secondary school compared to state average
  • Increased percentage of marginalized students (orphans and girls) who attend school compared to state average
  • Community will use gathering space for more than school purposes
  • Jalle will see an increase in return rate of displaced community members
  • Building will be cooler inside than outside
  • Adequate day lighting for reading will be provided naturally
  • Ministry of Education will look to this design for replication

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