Wednesday, March 28, 2018

March 28: Cost Overruns That We Are Proud Of

As always, I'd be a fool not to begin with the donation link.  We'll be continuing to accept donations for the foreseeable future, though the exact link will change on April 1st.

With any sort of construction project, cost overruns are the major fear.  A quick web search can yield any number of warplanes that cost a few billion dollars more than anticipated.  Boston's infamous "Big Dig"  was slated to cost $2.8 billion, but came in a half decade late at $14 billion (and $22 billion including interest paid).  When we undertook the first Kimbondo building project a year ago, I was skeptical that we could really build two brand new bedrooms, two small bathrooms, and a sprawling outdoor patio for the original estimate of ~$25,000.  

In fact, Madlen and crew were able to get all the work done in less than two months (and with a few additional flourishes) for $27,000--despite the rampant inflation and non-existent infrastructure of the Congo.

In our current Phase II Projects, we have run into a couple of unexpected costs.  But we are very proudly giving a transparent accounting of virtually every dollar spent.  (I say "virtually" as the type of accounting that we aim for in the United States isn't quite possible in a place like Kinshasa.)  I'll start by inserting the spreadsheet I was sent today from Dean and Madlen which indicates all expenditures incurred to date (now that the bathroom part of Phase II has been funded) and indicates where the overruns occurred.

Click to Enlarge

Our initial estimate was ~$12,500.  You'll see that the final cost was $16,733, or about $4,000 more than we anticipated.  These overruns can be loosely divided into two major categories--ones incurred by choice and ones foisted upon us.  We'll get the Foists out of the way, since no one really likes to contend with Foists.

There is one major and a couple minor areas of Foist.  The major one is that we had not anticipated the costs of removing (safely and environmentally soundly) over two decades' accumulation of sewage. As often noted, the septic tanks had been overflowing.  It turns out that three trucks (@ $380 each)  had to be hired to transport the sewage from the premises and for each truckload an additional $120 was needed to treat it. Not much to be done about this $1,500 expenditure.  The minor unaccounted for costs included between $300 - $400 related to purchasing and installing doors and $350 to pay the local project manager, a Congolese man named Papa Biya. This man has been a miracle worker at Kimbondo for years and was also the primary doer behind the first project.  I am no authority in the matter, but I am very convinced that this is a very, very fair additional payment for all that he's done.

The rest of the cost overruns were of choice and were the result of on-the-ground decisions made by Madlen and Dean.  From today's email from Dean:The additional costs result from the wall tiling and floor tiling of the dining/living room, the wall tiling and floor tiling of the hallway, the construction of the back porch, the construction of the laundry/clothes storage room on the back of the house, and the costs involved in removing the old sewage.  In addition, since we had the workers and materials there, we are constructing a cement ping pong table in the front of the house that will provide recreation for kids not only in Foyer, but also the other houses in the orphanage.

In short, the decision was made to add the following to the initial part of Phase II:

  • the wall and floor tiling of the house's dining room/living room (which have apparently made a huge differences in terms of aesthetics and sanitation)
  • the building of a back porch (which involved roofing sheets and electrical wiring)
  • the addition of a clothes storage and laundry room (which will, we hope, soon house an industrial-strength washing machine, eliminating the need to wash 75 sets of clothes by hand).
  • the construction of a cement ping pong table!

The bottom line is that we ran into about $2,500 more in costs than we'd expected, and added about $2,500 in additions to the original plans.  (Some of this is offset by Price Rebel Madlen getting a major discount on the tiles that we used).  I'm not able to see it myself this time, of course, but I have complete faith in the decision making of Dean and Madlen.  Once more from Dean:

I know that this has gone beyond the original toilet project, but the result has been an almost new looking house that is very functional and has such a nice feel to it, both with looks and smell!

And adding to the poignancy, Madlen reports that Foyer House is now known across the 700+ resident compound as "La Maison Blanche"--"The White House".  I know, right?...

So, here's where we stand:
  • The bathrooms (and the add-on projects--laundry room, renovated dining area, back porch, and ping pong tables) will end up costing ~$16,700.  I am waiting for confirmation, but it's my understanding that this work will all be completed within the next week to ten days.
  • Thus far, we have raised $18,651.  Thus, the first part of Phase II has been fully funded.  It's done. Thank you.
  • We are currently sitting on a surplus of ~$2,000.  I know of an additional $1,000 that has been pledged, plus a few other sources of anticipated revenue that will likely add up to at least another $1,000. 
  • The second part of Phase II involves dramatically renovating the older Foyer House bedrooms.  While these two bedrooms are functional, they are worn down and still very crowded (despite now housing 40 between them instead of 75 a year ago).
  • Madlen is proposing two versions.  One would introduce light- and -air-producing windows and a general overhaul of the room as it exists.  She's giving a six thousand dollar estimate.  We are already a third of the way to covering that expenditure, and as noted above I have reason to feel confident that another third of it is essentially secured.  If worst comes to worst, I'm committed to making up the difference with money left by Bob and Gay.  The old bedrooms will at least get a nice upgrade.
  • But the dream?--Doing all of the above and also installing lofts, essentially doubling the number of beds available and increasing the living space.  The price tag to that looks like an additional $6,000.  This may be beyond our means. But maybe not.  We are about to embark on a final round of aggressive (oh, that sounds wrong--make it "assertive" fundraising) to see if we can entice some new donors and procure additional help from the old ones.
I'll use these photos again--and provide much more info about Phase IIB--in a later update. But it seems appropriate to close by providing an indication of how cramped the older Foyer House bedrooms are.  Mind you, these kids are more than simple "victims".  They laugh and love and enjoy life, despite the hard hands they've been dealt.  But space and resources are scarce and Madlen is very clear how much it would mean to them to enjoy a bit more comfort.

We've made something good happen here. From Madlen, Papa Biya, Dean, and the workers on the ground, to close friends of ours of whose donations we are aware, to the dozens of other names behind generosity of which we are not specifically aware, I feel like we've formed a fleeting community of good will and resistance against some bad forces out there.  

I'll close with David Byrne's most finely tuned words:  "Never for money and always for love".

Oh, and fuck fascism.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

March 23: Moving to the Home Stretch

As always, the donations URL up front:

In between finishing up a hectic quarter where I am in Bolivia and preparing for a family trip to Macchu Picchu, I've struggled to keep up with the news from Kimbondo.  But the general word from Madlen is that the work on the bathrooms is progressing at a good pace and that they could possibly be open for "business" within a couple of weeks.

To recap the general state of affairs, our last update from Lantern Projects had us at $14,578.  I've also just received word that a donor from Ireland has sent $2,000 directly to Madlen in the Congo, meaning that our new total is...

I could get ahead of myself and let on that I have reason to believe that the total is soon to top $20,000.  A theater company in Austin is talking to us about putting on a benefit performance.  And we also know of $3,000 that has been promised, but not yet received; so it's best not to count the proverbial chickens before the equally proverbially hatching.

Madlen and Dean are promising a full financial accounting this weekend.  We do know that there have been a few additional expenses, some incurred by choice, some foisted upon us.  The choices involve an industrial strength washing machine and turning the dining hall from a dungeon into a palace. (I exaggerate here quite a bit, of course. But I was charmed to learn that the residents refer to last year's new bedrooms as "La Maison Blanche"--"The White House.")  The foisting comes courtesy of the precarious nature of the Congolese franc and the unexpected (and unwelcome...and unpleasant, I'm sure) need to transport three huge truckloads of sewage accumulated over the decades to a place where it could be safely disposed of.

Until I receive the financial accounting, I can only say that the bathrooms are safely funded and that we are able to move on to renovating the older sleeping quarters.  That job is expected to cost about $12,000 if we do it as we want to do it, and about half that amount if we need to settle for something less grandiose (but still very useful).

Until then, I'll leave you with the latest photos, a series of Befores (on the left) and Afters (on the right).

These first two show some work completed using last year's funds.  The area around Foyer House consisted of dirt.  In and of itself, this wasn't a problem, but as most Kimbondo residents don't wear shoes regularly, this let to a horrible parasite entering the feet of many residents.  The new patio protects against this and also gives the kids a more comfortable area to sit, to study to play.

            Still waiting on the sink installation. But it should be clear that once
              that happens and the final touches are completed, this will be a lot
              more pleasant.

               Old shower area and new.  Hoping to have the pipes for the showers
                 installed by the first of the month.

              The toilets a month ago and the toilets today.  'nuff said.


                     No before here.  But the dining hall was long a crumbling black 
                        cement floor and the walls hadn't been painted since...well, in a
                 bloody long time.  It not only looks much nicer and (I'm told)
                 now boasts a fresh, clean smell, but in between meal times is
                 converted into a sanitary and comfortable study area.

We'll have the updated financial report to you as quickly as we can and, ideally, some new photographs of the, even more ideally, fully-functional new bathrooms.  We will also be providing a look at the work yet to be funded--the renovation of the old bedrooms.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

March 17: And on to the Bedrooms

Guess it makes sense to start with the URL for making a donation, right?

We're happy to announce that our confidence was well-placed and we have raised enough money to cover the bathroom renovations at Foyer House at the Kimbondo Orphanage in Kinshasa, D.R. Congo.  As many of you know, +/-75 young people have been sharing two toilets stalls and living amidst pools of overflowing sewage.  Project manager Madlen took a leap of faith and borrowed the money to get started on the project and it the progress has been quick and efficient.  The latest project is that the bathrooms--six new toilet stalls, big windows, attractive tiling, modern sinks and showers--may be open for business by the first of April.  (And the sewage pools--they are already a grim memory from the past.)

Let's have a look at a couple of before and after shots:


(Note not just the floors and tiling, but also the air and light that the larger windows will provide.  Oh, and the plumbing works.  And the olfactory effects should be taken as a given.)

Using the money that we have raised so far, we've decided that we can afford a related add-on to "Phase I"--the construction of a small annex that will house an industrial-strength washing machine.  We think that will run about $1,200, which will leave the funds raised so far essentially exhausted.  

A washing machine will go here
So, it's on to Phase II. Foyer House currently has 40 young people sharing the two older bedrooms. They are crowded, run-down, and starved for air and light.  

The Old Bedrooms; Sleep ~20
For about $6,000 - $7,000 we can add huge air- and light-producing windows and ceiling fans and give the bedrooms a major structural and cosmetic makeover. For double that, we can add lofts, which will create new beds and free up a lot of space.  More details to come.

Monday, March 5, 2018

March 5: Some Early Work

The ever-present reminder: Donations are accepted here:

Confident that support would start rolling in when our fundraiser officially opened, we okayed some spending of funds and commencement of work before we had actually gathered any money.  With $1,800 received over the first weekend (and--not quite a spoiler alert, but a hint--strong reason to be confident that this dollar amount is soon to grow dramatically), our confidence served us well.

In order to combat the ever-looming threat of inflation in the D.R. Congo, Madlen did some massive purchasing of materials and hired work crews to get started.  Here's a few looks at the situation on the ground:

Yeah, this is raw sewage.
And this used to be a toilet.

And this is how you attack decrepit bathroom plumbing.

And this is the first shipment of cement that will make it all better.
And this is the beginnings of a new septic tank.

And here is a much later stage of a new septic tank.
 And somehow Madlen and the workers got this far in about a week.  We have a long way to go until this part of the project is funded (and much farther if we hope to be able to renovate the old living quarters). But our confidence has paid off and Madlen will continue borrowing money in Kinshasa to complete this bathroom ASAP, feeling certain that we'll be able to raise the money to repay the loan.

Friday, March 2, 2018

March 2: Let the Fundraising Begin!

Alright, my friends...We need about $12,000 for an *emergency* bathroom renovation for 75 abandoned kids at the Kimbondo Orphanage in Kinshasa.  (And, kismet willing, another $12,000 to greatly enhance a very crowded and fairly dank pair of sleeping quarters.)

Our friends at Lantern Projects will be accepting your donations (which are US tax-deductible) and safely transmitting them to Madlen in Kinshasa.  You can donate here:

If you want to know why you should have faith in this project, please pore over the earlier blog entries to learn how we brought an even more daunting $27,000 building project in *at budget* last year.  The D.R. Congo is not an easy place to make this sort of thing happen, but we know the right person.

Last time, ~120 donors gave us $27,000 with donations ranging from a few dollars to a couple thousand.  This time around, $4 will buy us a KG of nails, $22 will buy us a half-ton of sand (!), $60 will buy us one of six toilet stalls, $150 will pay for the electricians' labor, and $1,100 will buy us a truckload of gravel.

The sad state of the bathroom

Thanks for your consideration.  I have pre-wired Madlen some of the money so that she can get started and beat the ever-present force of inflation that the D.R. Congo is facing.