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Volunteering with EAHR: Architecture is a Human Right

Architecture is a Human Right. Every person has the right to have creative and safe developmental buildings and surroundings. This is the believe and motivation of Emergency Architecture & Human Rights (EAHR), a NGO established in October 2015 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Together with its sister organization in Chile and Italy, EAHR works and builds for socially vulnerable communities around the globe that face inequality, humanitarian crisis and violation of their human rights.

“As a small organization our volunteers and members in general are very important for us, especially for two reasons: it increase our capacity for the reduced staff that we are and they help us to push our knowledge and ideas of how the architecture sector should be out into the world”, says Michele Di Marco, Architect and MSC Disaster Manager at EAHR. 

Architecture is more than commercial buildings

A crucial element of all projects are that they are in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. To perform the projects, EAHR consists of people with a variety of educational backgrounds from anthropology and philosophy over architecture and engineers to business administration and political science. Among a variety of projects, EAHR started the campaign “100 classrooms for refugee children in the Middle East, where they built classrooms for Refugee Children from Syria and Jordan in Za’atrian village, located outside of the Za’atrian refugee camp, 10 km from the Syrian border and Azraq, Jordan. Adaline Hui from Hong Kong travelled to Jordan to work as a volunteer for a month:

“I knew that I was not interested in typical, normal architecture. So before graduating I decided that I wanted to find myself an opportunity to gain more experiences and see how non-commercial architecture works. EAHR is certainly not the mainstream - and my time as a volunteer has only increased my interest in this field,” says Adaline Hui, M.Sc. Architecture, currently doing an internship at EAHR in Copenhagen.

For EAHR, architecture is about the social responsibility to help communities to develop and empower them to build. In order to do so, you have to adapt to the culture and work with the people in the local area, which was an important element when building the classrooms. Here, the construction is inspired by the Great Mosque of Djenné, traditional earth architecture from Mali and vernacular beehive house structures of Syria originating from Aleppo and Homs, where many of the refugees come from. Also, due to the limited choice of building methods and materials, and the harsh environment characterized by hot summers and cold winters, the beehive style is a viable solution for a school construction.

Although EAHR works for the most vulnerable sectors of the society, quality architecture is still as important. Within the last three years, EAHR has won important international prices such as Global Award for Sustainability (2019), Archdaily, project of the year (2018) and Prize for outstanding Professionalism at the XX BIENAL DE ARQUITECTURA DE CHILE (2017).

Collaboration between volunteers and local partners

All projects that Mavuno are involved in are done in collaboration with local organisations and partners. After two earthquakes in Nepal in April and May 2015, EAHR and Engineers Without Borders Denmark (EWB-DK) went on a joint fact-finding mission to Nepal, where they recommended support to Nepal on demolition and reconstruction work on demolition of damaged school buildings. EWB-DK volunteer, Erik Lauritzen was project manager and worked in close collaboration with EAHR:

“I worked in close cooperation with EAHR and together we made a plan for how to rebuild schools and train the employees. The collaboration worked really well as we complemented each other with our various knowledge and approaches to the project. Architects are skilled at being creative in relation to social conditions and reconstruction, where we engineers focus more on the materials, carrying capacity etc. It is important to focus on both aspects in reconstruction projects as well as in developing projects,” says Erik Krog Lauritzen, EWB-DK volunteer and consulting engineer at Lauritzen Advising, who works with recycling in the construction industry.

As an architect working with social conditions, it is crucial to understand and adapt to the culture differences:

“Jordan was very different from commercial architecture, that I have worked with at school. What you manage is not only the project itself such as if the construction and design is going well. You also manage your relationship with the local partners, your workers on site, which in this case, we had a huge culture difference with. In a normal office, culture difference is not so obvious - but in Jordan it was quite challenging to manage and also the time schedule,” explain Adaline Hui.

Strengthen the capacity of future volunteers

Since 2018, EAHR has been part of the multi-partner capacity development project EU Aid Volunteer Initiative, together with Engineers Without Borders in Denmark (EWB-DK) and Sweden (EWB-SE) and partners in Sierra Leone, Nepal and Tanzania. The purpose of the project is to enhance quality and capacity of volunteer’s management and hence increase the amount of future deployment of volunteers.

“So far, the project has been interesting because we have been forced to make a lot of policies. It has been kind of an internal capacity building within our volunteer management and for the staff as well. It has been very helpful because we were pushed to use new policies that will be valuable for us in general and for all our projects in relation to the EU Aid Volunteer Initiative,” says Michele Di Marco, Architect and MSC Disaster Manager at EAHR.


For further information about EWB-DK's EU Aid project, please contact: 

Secretary General
Dorte Lindegaard Madsen

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