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Fils ”Mille Briques” Kalonji and Freddy Kankolongo stand next to the brick press in Kasai Occidental.

IMA World Health/Evan Schellenberg

With one fifth of children not reaching their first birthday, the Democratic Republic of Congo has one of the highest levels of child mortality in the world.

It also has the fourth highest level of maternal deaths, accounting for almost one in 10 of all maternal deaths in Africa.

It is estimated that less than a quarter of citizens have access to health care across the country. According to the National Health Development Plan (PNDS) research, among the health centers currently operational, a mere 12 percent are constructed out of durable materials. Without significant construction in the health sector in the DRC, the health care outlook begins to look bleak.

The IMA World Health construction teams, made up of local workers, have these types of statistics in mind when building new health centers. But as residents of the communities served by the ASSP project, they also are the statistics.

Each new health center is built using stabilized, compressed earth blocks. Some of the advantages of these blocks are that they lead to 15 times more energy savings and eight times less pollution when compared to fired bricks. The blocks are made on site, are significantly more cost effective than other building materials, and are often stronger than fired bricks.

As each new health center project commences, IMA World Health trains members of the local populations as brick-making technicians. This includes training in all steps required for brick production, including testing of the soil composition to ensure optimum results, proper mixing techniques, use of the manual brick presses, and correct curing methods.

At the beginning stages of the ASSP project, daily brick production hovered around 350. As it has continued, production is now at more than 1,000 in a single day!

Each day as they labor, the workers are proud to be a part of a building that will serve their families for generations. As each new block is removed from the mold, it becomes much more than the sum of its parts: sand, gravel, silt, clay, cement, and water. It is more than just saving cost, energy or pollution.

Each brick is saving lives.

Not just another brick in the wall.

Not just another brick in the wall.

Read about how this project began: Improving Health in DR Congo, Brick by Brick (with video)

Evan Schellenberg is the Construction Coordinator for IMA World Health in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Originally from Steinbach, Manitoba, Canada, he is following in the footsteps of his grandparents, who were missionaries in the DRC for over 30 years.

The Projet d’Accès aux Soins de Santé Primaire, or the Access to Primary Health Care Project (ASSP) is a 5-year, £182.9 million (US $304.5 million) project funded by the department for International development (DFID) through UK aid and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). The ASSP project seeks to improve primary health care in 56 health zones in five provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo – Kasaï Occidental, Maniema, Equateur, Oriental and South Kivu – for a population of 8.3 million people. IMA World Health leads the consortium of implementing partners including SANRU, CARITAS, World Vision and IRC, with technical assistance from Tulane University (in collaboration with the University Of Kinshasa School Of Public Health), Pathfinder, HISP, and IntraHealth.