Housing Projects: Keep Away from Children

One of the signature policies of the current government to provide citizens with housing are the middle and low-income condos currently flourishing around Addis Abeba. But while these houses could serve as cheaper alternatives for the general public, the level of quality that the buildings exhibit and the type of neighbourhood that follows once people enter their homes and populate the area is worrying. It is all the more alarming that children have to grow in these places.

When children come into this world, the first people they are introduced to are their parents. And parents – not just biological parents but anyone who is responsible for the child’s growth – make an indelible imprint.

Friends in the neighbourhood are the next in line to align a child’s psychological makeup. Under certain circumstances, peers may be just as critical to one’s development as parents. Teachers also play a significant role, shaping children’s mind for the world that awaits them outside the schoolyards. For the highly curious, we should not forget books, movies and music too. These days the “Magic Box”, the TV screen, is one of a child’s closest friends. Technology has reached such a stage that one may innoculate himself from the world outside. But for those who watch with care, it could be a source of valuable information.

A child’s intellect can be moulded by all of these together. The child in the middle, whose brain is akin to a white sheet of paper, is innocent and can be positively and negatively affected by any of this. The environment in which we grow, more or less, creates us.

That environment is our protection against the vacuum. By this, I do not mean, the walls and all the ceiling amongst which we grow up, but the rest of the non-physical stuff that provides a psychological cushion for children. But what most people forget is that the physical components amongst which we live are just as crucial.

Think of the poorly designed houses, where one is expected to raise a family in.

All of the housing projects taking place around Addis Abeba come somewhat cheaply. Currently springing up into high-rise structures, they are built by the government for the benefit of the public. The owners are committed to covering a certain amount of the houses’ cost, while the government will subsidise the rest. Owners will pay the remaining amount over a particular period. The houses are awarded to the public in the form of a lottery.

The housing scheme has been classified as low-income housing and middle-income housing based on the ratio of the sum that is to be covered right away and which will be paid over the years with interest. Within the classification of the type of income levels, the houses are also broken down into studios, single bedroom or two bedroom homes.

The ground floor includes common spaces, trash bins, outdoor benches, green areas and, in some cases, even common laundries. But these facilities are unfortunately misused. Most of the ground level houses are sometimes utilised as public bars or Tej Bet.

For some people, the environment could be to their liking – they would get to drink and have fun with their friends. For others, it could be a hazard. Inhabitants of those buildings may want a tranquil domain where they can read or write. Others have children that should go to sleep on time for their school the next day.

It is perhaps time to start thinking about the kind of environment these housing projects create for children. In these neighbourhoods, kids meet with other kids. But they also have the added probability of encountering strangers that may introduce them to alcohol or other equally harmful substances.

There is also the health hazard. As has been reported time and again, the housing projects are built under unfavourable conditions with little attention given to their quality.

I experienced this firsthand when once accompanying my wife who needed to express felicitations to a friend who recently gave birth. Although the room was a two bedroom house – the most luxurious the housing projects could provide – it felt like a cage. It did not seem like an environment that could positively affect the psychological development of a child.

I may not have a background in architecture but it is not difficult to tell an apple from an orange in this case. Even the furniture could not adequately be accommodated somehow. Ethiopians expect their houses to reflect their wants and desires even if they are not interior designers with a degree. But they do their best, and all they ask for is an appropriate space to be awarded to them. What is even more unfair is that little children are exposed to the hazards of cracking walls, malfunctioning valves and smelly sewerage systems. I have also seen similar housing projects that are being constructed in Adama city. They look like they are soon to collapse than stand. It is also impossible to council one to rear a child there.

By Girma Feyissa

Published on Sep 30,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 909]



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