Win-Win-Win: a Solution for Livelihoods, Education and Conservation

Posted on July 31st, 2018


Innovators in the field of development and sustainability are constantly searching for ‘win-win’ solutions: a problem is addressed and all stakeholders benefit. This elusive outcome proves difficult to achieve and many well-meaning ventures struggle with challenging compromises between conservation, social development and cost.



Ugandan flag proudly displayed at Wairraka Primary School



Win-win solutions are not exclusively found in the realm of optimist ideology, occasionally an innovation, an idea, or a strategy is created that ticks a lot of boxes.


HYT’s success sits upon two robust pillars: the ingenious innovation of Interlocking Stabilised Soil Blocks (ISSB) and a strong focus on youth empowerment. Uganda’s current social and environmental challenges accentuate the positive impact of the organisation.



The Tesla of the masonry world: Interlocking Stabilised Soil Blocks (ISSB)



Of course, working under the banner of HYT there is a risk of (shameless) partiality. However, an international award in sustainability indicates these words are not founded in bias. Over the course of the next few posts each ‘win’ will be explained and the evidence is in the outcomes. First up: conservation.






Uganda is an exceptional reservoir of wildlife, ranked among the top ten countries for biodiversity. Small and land locked, Uganda incorporates seven of Africa’s distinct biogeographical regions. Each region harbours a different set of wildlife from gorillas deep in misty mountainous rainforests to ostriches in the dry Northern savanna.



Uganda is home to 7.5% of the world’s known mammal species including around half of the world’s Mountain Gorillas. (Photo credit: charletphotography)



The exceptional flora and fauna award Uganda a special classification as a biodiversity hotspot (1 of 34 in the world!). However, Uganda’s biodiversity is threatened by a host of human practises, the majority of which contribute to habitat loss.



How many species can you count? The diversity of Uganda’s birds is world class. (Photo credit: charletphotography)


Habitat Loss



Deforestation is a form of habitat loss and it is occurring at an alarming rate. Since 1990, Uganda has lost a staggering 3.3 million hectares of forest and the rate of loss is increasing. Several processes contribute to this upsetting statistic, one of which is the overwhelming demand for burned bricks.



If current rates continue, there will be no forests by 2026 (Graph adapted from mongabay data)



Uganda has one of the fastest growing populations on earth, resulting in an increasing demand for housing, schools and other infrastructure.The bricks needed to construct a small to medium sized house require around 14 tons of firewood.The mass production of burned bricks in Uganda is a key driver of deforestation.



The construction industry in Uganda has experienced an 18% growth since 2015



A commonly seen alternative to the burnt brick is clay bricks: clay is excavated, shaped and cured in the sun. Unfortunately, this practice is also detrimental to the environment, resulting in the destruction of wetlands. Wetland habitats are some of the most productive on earth, providing homes for countless bird species and playing a pivotal role in the provision of ecosystem services such as water purification, nutrient cycling and flood prevention.



In the last 20 years, Uganda has lost about 570,000 hectares of wetlands in various parts of the country.





ISSB provides an economic and low carbon alternative to the destructive burnt and clay brick. Using only locally sourced inorganic soil and a small amount of cement, bricks are pressed and cured in the sun. Every ISSB structure saves countless trees and protects habitats for wildlife.



No trees were harmed in the production of blocks for this ISSB house


HYT buildings have saved an estimated 100 tons of COemissions which equates to 450 tons of firewood. ISSB technology is slowly being adopted in Uganda, this adoption has no doubt been accelerated by the work of HYT.


To be classified as a win-win solution it is important that these environmental benefits do not result in costs elsewhere. ISSB construction:




Keep an eye out for the next post looking at how HYT improves livelihoods of young Ugandans.

Two Years Beside the Nile: A Retrospective

Posted on July 16th, 2018

Two Years Beside the Nile

A fisherman casts his golden net, just a stone’s throw away from the Haileybury Youth Trust’s offices.


When returning to Haileybury to sing in David Fanshawe’s African Sanctus in November 2015, I was particularly moved by the Crucifixus. The chirruping of South Sudanese frogs leads the audience down the Nile into Uganda, where the crooning of a fisherman and his wooden enanga (zither) conjure up a haunting image of the country I was hoping to work in for the next two years.


Ugandan Drummer in Mayuge

Music is one of the many medium through which Uganda expresses its warm and vibrant spirit.


8 months later I was to listen to the little amphibians from my bedroom in disbelief; their croaking was so loud I was convinced someone was playing one of those rainforest ambience CDs!


Sunbird in Mabira Forest

Subsequent wildlife encounters, such as this sunbird in Mabira Forest, confirm that Uganda’s natural environment is truly beyond belief!


The sounds of nature may not have changed, but the musical accompaniment to my time in Uganda has been far from the pain of a Crucifixus. Much more common have been the jubilant dances at the opening ceremonies of HYT classrooms, to the beating of goatskin drums and the boom of the village emcee! During my two years in the country, I’ve attended 6 of these events, each of which has marked the culmination of months of hard work by HYT trainers, trainees and the communities themselves.


Pupils Celebrate at HYT's 10th Community Project

Pupils Celebrate at HYT’s 10th Community Project


To put that work into perspective, I saw 30 structures completed in 2017 by a team of 4 trainers and their 3 managers, expertly led by Country Manager Mauricia. That makes an annual total of 7.5 buildings, and nearly 2,500 beneficiaries, per trainer!


HYT Team by the Nile

Among the many skills of an HYT trainer is the ability to make a convincing 90’s album cover…


It’s humbling stuff, as is the modesty and professionalism with which the Trust’s core team members carry out their award-winning work. Philip, Freddo, Johnny, Mattias, Sam and Eric certainly know the importance of a strong foundation, and it is on their shoulders that HYT’s 2017 Ashden Award for Sustainable Buildings proudly stands.


The Ashden Award Ceremony itself was a pivotal moment in the history of HYT, and a testament to the dedication of Director Russell Matcham over the last 12 years. His speech on the future of sustainable development in East Africa, delivered to an audience at the Royal Geographical Society which included former US Vice-President Al Gore, reflected his place at the beating heart of the Haileybury Youth Trust, which continually flies to new heights!


Russell Matcham Speaks at the Ashden International Conference

Russell Matcham Speaks at the Ashden International Conference


Of course, no speech about HYT would be complete without Country Manager Mauricia Nambatya, whose engineering qualifications from Makerere and Cambridge universities and impressive yet friendly leadership place her at the head of operations here in Jinja. In her the Trust has a sunny, Ugandan future!


Mauricia Nambatya Speaks at the Ashden Awards

Mauricia Nambatya Speaks at the Ashden Awards


So far in 2018, HYT has forged beyond Lake Victoria, up to the savannahs of Karamoja and the refugee camps of West Nile, in partnership with Enabel – Belgian Development Agency. I feel lucky to have overseen the inception of these important projects, and cannot wait to see where Mauricia and the incoming Assistant Country Manager, Ed Brett, will take HYT in the coming years.



Nakapiripirit Sustainable ISSB House

Enabel projects have seen the marriage of innovative ISSB technology and traditional construction techniques. 


As my term ends at the Trust, I take with me far more than the chirruping of the frogs (though HYT’s protection of wetlands has helped to secure even that)! I leave with memories of red marram soil, singing in the villages, and a suitcase full of smiles. Russell hopes there might be room for an ISSB in there too, but I’ll have to save that for next time…


A Clap for HYT

A round of applause for the men and women who make HYT the life-changing organisation it is for so many.