Tuesday, January 31, 2017

January 31: An Imprecise Attempt at Financial Transparency

So, I'll be honest here:  accounting very every last franc for a project like this is tricky.  All materials and salaries are paid for in cash.  The value of the franc has been erratic, but on the downtrend.  January 1 saw the annual seemingly random jacking up of prices.  And, we are in the D.R. Congo, where corruption is so embedded in the upper echelons of power, that many toward the bottom simply have no choice but to survive by whatever means necessary.

As an example, we lost three bags of cement--valued at about $35.  Someone walked off with them.  That's not nice, of course; but a family probably ate for a week.  It's going to happen.

All disclaimers aside, we are very pleased to report that we seem remarkably on budget at this point.  As the structure for the roof goes in place this week, all accounts indicate that we are not only meeting the early timeline expectations, but that we are staying largely within the budget.  Below are some details about the process to date.

First of all, our initial budget projection called for the raising of around $25,000.  Here is an estimate of costs, as formalized on October 22nd.

Unsurprisingly, not all was accounted for.  In particular, the delivery costs (not insubstantial when  you're dealing with 140 *tons* of sand and gravel).  And prices are erratic here.  From time of projection to time of purchase, the price of cement went up a dollar a bag.

There are some mitigators, however, that have kept us on track.  First of all, we exceeded our fundraising goal by close to 15% and raised a total of $28,450.  We anticipated imprecision in the cost estimates and, as is true everywhere in the world, the reality is usually less favorable that the hopes that precede it.

Secondly, a generous local donor contributed 120 bags of cement, which is valued at roughly $1,500.

Finally, and most importantly, Madlen is overseeing this project.  Madlen came to Kimbondo over half a decade ago and never left.  At some point, perhaps we need to profile her, to tell her whole remarkable story.  But most germane to this account is the recognition that her diligence, her commitment to the project, and her uber-competence have kept this endeavor on track--and, actually, made it all possible in the first place.

When Madlen noticed that three bags of cement were missing, she pursued the matter--not so much in hopes of uncovering the culprit, but more to send word that the materials were being strictly accounted for.  There have been no disappearances since.

Madlen knows how things get done here. So early on, she arranged a bonus payment to the foreman and the workers if a certain quota was met each week.  The total extra cost likely hasn't exceeded a hundred or two dollars by this point and the result is that the construction is moving along at a faster than anticipated speed.

Madlen knows how things work in the Congo.  Specifically, she knows that each January 1st, there is an annual inflation adjustment in commodities that occurs across the board.  Cognizant of this, she purchased iron bars, cement, wood, and other high ticket items in the few days between the violent street protests of December 19 and the end of 2016.  She estimates that she saved roughly 10% on her purchases.

And while formal book keeping here is a pipe dream, Madlen scrutinizes every purchase and every delivery, and keeps a notebook full of receipts.  I won't bore anyone with these details, but here is a photo that represents her transparency.


In no particular order, here are some updates on progress and updates, as of the time of my last visit on January 16th:

  • With the outer walls largely built, the next steps involve the wood4 team coming in to build the structure for the roof and the pouring of the cement foundation.  I am awaiting an update.
  • Roughly a week after the foundation is laid, the cement-based bunk beds can be installed.
  • Madlen has already purchased the brightly colored tiles for the rooms.  As ceramic is fragile, their installation will be the final step in the process. Their estimated cost was $1,150. The actual price ran over by $100.
  • The major cost overrun has come in the form of the gravel and cement. The price of both has gone up for both--by roughly ten percent--and the overlooked delivery costs will run a few hundred dollars.  However, the unexpected donation of 120 bags of cement more than compensates.
  • The materials for the doors (4 of them) and windows (12--large as to let in copious amounts of light and fresh air) are coming in at $1,750, including delivery.  This is a $400 overrun.
  • The plumbing and electrical wiring were estimated at a total cost of about $1,150; the actual materials (despite being purchased before January 1) will be closer to $1,300.

In short, there is some overrun.  But give the difficulty of this project, we are very happy with how it is progressing.  Given the additional $3,500 raised and the $1,500 cement donation, we feel very confident that we have what we need to complete the construction in a way that matches the images in our my hopeful of dreams.  Madlen truly believes that the kids could be sleeping in their new beds sometime in March.

And if we do have some money left over?  Oh, we have some ideas...fixing the toilets in the original Foyer House...creating lofts and adding large windows to the existing bedrooms...but I'll save those thoughts (and cost estimates) for another time.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

January 18 Update: Toilet Problems

One of the major problems faced by Foyer House is the toilet situation.  It's bad enough that the 75 or so residents share a single bathroom with six toilet stalls.  It's almost unmanageable given that *five* are non-functional. They can be fixed; but that would involve a fairly major plumbing overhaul and in the interim would leave no toilet facilities in the building.

The A Bed for Each Child Project will be adding two toilet stalls to the new addition. (We'd have loved to add a couple more, but the building space is limited.)  So, at very least, sometime in March (insh'allah, Zeus willing, Murphy's Law be damned) the kids will have three toilet stalls among them.

A few months ago, Kimbondo completed the modernization of the toilets in another building.  (This orphanage is huge; they house at least 600 abandoned kids and it's hard to see demand declining in the D.R.C. for the immediate or intermediate future.)  Here's a two minute look at the current Foyer House toilets and the recently remodeled ones--which will form the blueprint for "our" toilets...and maybe more.

You'll note that I added "and maybe more".  Right now, we are focused on getting this ~$25,000 project completed on-budget and on-time.  And so far, the prognosis is good.  There's even a chance that, since we exceeding our fundraising goal by about $3,500, we may be able to do a little more, possibly take some steps toward renovating the existing Foyer House toilet facilities.

Madlen (our Everything on the ground at Kimbondo) estimates (ballpark-ily) that turning the awful old into the sparkly new at Foyer House might cost about $5,000 and could be completed in a month or so.  And the residents could stand the disruption, as the two new toilets would be, as it were, open for "business".

Just an idea...Frankly, if this thing gets built, we're happy with that.  But if there's a bit of change left over, this might be the priority for the next step.  We might have to do a little more fundraising.  We'll let you know if that possibility arises.

Monday, January 16, 2017

January 16 Update: This Sucker Actually Gettin' Built!

Dean, Shiera, and I got back to Kinshasa about ten days ago and today Dean and I made it out to Kimbondo to check on the progress.  As reminder, this is what we saw a month ago:

About 800 of the 4,000 needed bricks had been made as of a month ago.

Madlen had promised quick progress.  But wow...In just over a month, the project has gone from $25,000 in the bank and some piles of sand and gravel into this:

Here are the original blueprints:

It don't look so pretty yet.  But it is taking shape.

One of the bathrooms with plumbing rudiments in place
One of the twelve large windows   

Dean and friends in one of the two bedrooms

Here is a quick video look at the progress.  I did kind of a lousy job here; but no cinematographer am I...

I'll provide more details soon, but so far the project appears to be roughly on target in terms of the proposed budget (and we were able to raise a few thousand extra as a cushion).  Just as happily, I can report that the proposed completion date is currently looking to be earlier than anticipated--despite recent days associated with the recent political violence in Kinshasa and the usual bevy of obstacles that obstruct development in a place like the D.R.C.  Madlen sees a real possibility that the room could be ready for habitation as early as March.

Coming soon--more details about toilets, specifics about the finances, and some photos of some truly magnetic faces.