Across an Ocean With the highest maternal mortality rate in the world, Sierra Leone is one of the most dangerous countries for women to give birth.¹ Gauri Kelkar’s (M.Arch ’17) final project is helping to change that. Partnering with Rural Health Care Initiative (RHCI), a Minneapolis-based nonprofit founded by Sierra Leone immigrant Alice Karpeh, Kelkar designed a birth waiting house (BWH) in the village of Tikonko. Once completed, the BWH will provide a location for women to receive pre- and postnatal care, education, and assistance if complications arise.
Since traveling to Sierra Leone was not possible for Kelkar, she interviewed RHCI members and volunteers, examined case studies, and relied on archival research to gather the initial data she needed to start creating her plan for the house. “The design of the building itself was a collaborative process with periodic input from RHCI members and the local Sierra Leonian community in Minneapolis. These conversations served as a reality check for my design process. Their questions helped the project stay rooted in its surroundings and kept me sensitive to their needs,” explained Kelkar. Because there was no running water, electricity, or sewer connection, Kelkar knew her plan had to rely on resources that were naturally and freely available. “We had to be able to leverage resources like sunlight, wind, and rainwater effectively. The building plan had to give a sense of openness and yet provide privacy to pregnant women who were living at the center,” said Kelkar. 6 EMERGING SPRING 2017
The resource constraints weren’t the only obstacles Kelkar encountered. Designing a building without being able to visit the site was a challenge, as was designing for a community and culture that Kelkar was unfamiliar with. “Channeling their needs was tough. I had to rely on what I gleaned from other people’s experiences of Sierra Leonian culture and traditions.”
“Everyone in the village, especially the midwives and women of the village, is excited about the building and what it brings to the community.” —Gauri Kelkar In the end, Kelkar’s plan has been greeted with lots of enthusiasm from both RHCI and from the people of Tikonko. “Everyone in the village, especially the midwives and women of the village, is excited about the building and what it brings to the community,” concluded Kelkar. Construction on the birth waiting house was completed this summer. RHCI is now in the process of raising money to furnish the house and hire staff. You can help RHCI complete the birth waiting house by giving a donation at z.umn.edu/emgf17b. ¹ Mason, Harriet. “Making Strides to Improve Maternal Health in Sierra Leone.” UNICEF. Photos courtesy of Gauri Kelkar and Rural Health Care Initiative.