Getting Stuck In at the Centre for Excellence – Deborah’s Blog, March 2017

Well I’ve only been one month out in Zambia with the Build It team but already it feels like home. Boy, have I learnt a lot in the past month though!


Firstly, hello and let me introduce myself; I’m Deborah and I’m an engineer. With the support of BuroHappold Engineering, I’m currently working with Build It International in Lusaka as Project Manager for the new Centre for Excellence. I’m following up on Matt’s great work in 2016 which you can read about here.


We’re steadily building the Centre for Excellence in phases over a number years. Construction kicked off in 2016 with site works such as water reticulation, a demonstrative Low Income House and our first Learning Plaza (purple on map below). A water tank stand was also constructed in 2016 and stores water sourced from our site borehole. We’re planning to build on this with a similar number of buildings in 2017 (green on map blow).



At the moment my time is divided between planning work for the upcoming 2017 build season and overseeing the finishing touches to the current season.

2016 Learning Plaza
Excitingly, the first Learning Plaza is taking shape. The foundations and structural skeleton were already in place when I joined the team in February. Over the last month, I’ve watched the roof go on and the walls go up, so it’s beginning to feel more like a building.

The roof itself is a bituminous material. Many buildings in Zambia use corrugated metal sheet roofing, which works fine 8 months of the year, but proves to be a bit of acoustical nightmare in the rainy season. Our roof has much acoustic damping, which will mean less disruption during teaching exercises.


The photos above show the progress made on the Learning Plaza since I joined the team at the beginning of February. We have also been experimenting with a 360 degree camera to show you exactly what the building looks like! Below is how it looked Mid-March, with the roof installed and walls under construction.

Please feel free to explore the Learning Plaza, and take a look inside the buildings, using our interactive google street view:



Zambia relative to the UK
It’s been a bit of a learning curve for me to adapt to construction in Zambia compared to the UK. There’s a multitude of challenges to overcome that aren’t usually an issue in the UK, like the fact that nearly half the time we don’t have electricity on site because of power outages!

Other seemingly minor aspects actually have a big impact. For example few of our suppliers have websites or internet banking, so a lot of our procurement is done in person (thank you Nancy!) which can be relatively time consuming.

Part of the Build It Team
It’s great that so many of the workers employed on the site are those who have come up through previous Build It International training programmes. I’ll be liaising with Build It’s training team to ensure that we use the construction programme to provide experience to trainees and interns where possible.

On site, many contractors that we work with are inexperienced compared to the construction giants. My work includes sharing management skills not just within our own Build It team, but with anyone we deal with.

I’m loving the Zambian attitude of getting stuck in, regardless of what the day throws at you. I’m also sensing a powerful sense of determination from everyone I work with. Just the same as across the world, the site team have a joy in doing something well and being proud of their work. We are building the Centre for Excellence after all.