For Elizabeth Hausler, safe housing is a basic human right. She argues humans are to blame for houses collapsing after an earthquake. Elizabeth created Build Change, which overhauled the approach to building homes. Their expertise is helping residents, engineers and governments in emerging countries.
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I realized my calling after seeing the collapsed housing after an earthquake.
My father ran a construction company, so I loved construction and buildings since my childhood. Naturally I went on to study civil engineering as an undergraduate and onto graduate school. As I studied, I realized I wanted to be close to the people who use the buildings, and not become too technical.
In 2001, a massive earthquake hit the Indian state of Gujarat. When I saw the flattened houses, I was in great shock. Safe housing should be a human right. I realized this was not a natural disaster, but a manmade tragedy. I had to do something with the knowledge I possess. This was my calling.
In 2003, I went to India as a Fulbright scholar to help with post-earthquake recovery while doing research. I soon realized that technical issues did not cause the damage. At the time, NGO groups had donated housing, but the residents were dissatisfied. No one had bothered to ask them what they wanted. The housing did not meet the local climate or customs. For example, in this area, toilets were normally built outside of the house, but most of the donated housing had toilets inside. I felt this kind of aid was meaningless.
Breaking conventional wisdom about homebuilding to end man-made disasters
Instead of trying to impose foreign-designed houses on local residents, I decided it was essential to work closely with local residents and get them involved in rebuilding. This is important in building safe housing. By training the locals in basic architecture and construction, they are able to check if the housing is safe and spot the misuse of funds. If the residents themselves take safety into their own hands, there will be less man-made disasters. Also, by hiring local engineers and builders, we can contribute to local economies.
I wanted to fundamentally transform the approach to homebuilding, so in 2004, I founded Build Change. We mainly provide low-cost, highly earthquake-resistant designs and training of local residents, engineers and government officials. We even hold a bricklaying contest so we don’t forget to have fun. This actually dramatically improved the workers’ skills in building sturdy brick walls.
Safe homes and schools for 10 million people. It’s only the beginning.
Build Change's first project was in Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami. Since then we’ve expanded to Haiti, the Philippines, China (through 2011), Colombia, Guatemala and Nepal and are currently active in six countries. To date we have built 48,738 disaster-resistant buildings, providing safe homes to 245,026 people. This generated jobs for 10,956 engineers and builders; 25,363 workers received our training. But we are not done. Our next goal is to build safer housing and schools for 10 million people over the next 10 years.
Until now, I’ve devoted all my energy to providing the knowledge and technology, and have shied away from publicizing Build Change. But now I know the importance of getting our message out there and talk about what it is we do. I want to pass on our knowledge and expertise to as many people as we can. There are people all over the world who want safe housing and schools. We will not cease until everyone can live in safe housing, work in a safe environment and study in a safe school.
Resided in India in 2003 to assist with the rebuilding and study reconstruction after the 2001 Gujarat earthquake. After realizing that local residents should have knowledge to build safe housing, she founded Build Change in 2004. 70% of managers at Build Change are women. Many of the trainers are also female. To ward off jet lag, Hausler relies on running and yoga before flights.