Social Issues
How 70,000 Bottle Caps Became Part Of A Unique Learning Centre In Kenya
February 24, 2013
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It started with a request to people in Loita, Kenya, and around the world: save your bottle caps.

That's the message that went out on the '15,000 Bottle Caps for Africa' Facebook page back in 2011: "We need your caps!! Pop off or twist off, metal or plastic. They will all help!"

The plan was to use discarded bottle caps to decorate a new building in Loita: a computer learning centre and library, designed by architect Charles Newman in concert with local Maasai people.

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The building would provide access to over 4,000 books and solar-powered wireless internet for people in the extremely remote region where Loita is located.

It worked. Today, the Greystone Loita Learning Centre is in use, and its walls are decorated by thousands of bottle caps. The only thing they got wrong is the number: they ended up with about 70,000 caps in total.

Funding for the project came from Greystone Aviation, which donated $20,000 for labour and materials, the Internet Society, which gave the project a $12,000 grant for solar power and computers, and Adele's Literacy Library, which has committed to raising funds to pay for books.

Although the project has been completed successfully, introducing computers and the internet to the remote area required some sensitivity, especially given the Maasai's resistance to outside influences on their way of life.

"One of the reasons that it has proven so difficult for organizations to work with the Maasai is the tribe's historic resistance to western culture," Newman told Inhabitat.

"This has preserved the social structure, the way of life, and their beautiful Maasai aesthetic from dilution," he went on. "The introduction of education and information, which is so craved by the younger generations, is much more of a delicate matter when considering the historic values of the Maasai people."

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In order to ensure that the community would feel a sense of ownership over the new building, Newman worked closely with local people on the design. He incorporated local stone and a traditional Maasai structural appearance, but also incorporated a new, more sturdy method of wall construction.

Local Maasai women designed the outside of the building, using the colourful bottle caps as design elements to be placed into the wall.

The bottle cap designs are based on Maasai jewellery, which was referenced at every step of the process.

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"Here we have a unique cultural art form that if incorporated into the design of the building, could instill the ownership so necessary to the success of such a project," Newman says.

Local people also helped construct the building, sort through the bottle caps, and install the designs on the walls using the caps.

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The project was spearheaded by Under the Acacia, an organization that focuses on "sustainable initiatives that further community development and growth" in Kenya, according to the group's website.

Newman told Inhabitat, "in a community that has historically resisted western influence, allowing them to create something unique to their tribe helps them understand that while computers might be foreign, it is an opportunity to further enrich their own culture."

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Via Inhabitat

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