10/05/2010 03:38 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

House of Rain: Kenya's First Net-Positive Sports Facility (VIDEO, PHOTOS)

In early 2009 the St. Joseph Mahiga Primary and Secondary School in rural Kenya requested help for a small sports facility and community center. Fast forward 18 months and, thanks to the gamechangers sports micro-venture fund*, they are now home to the Mahiga Rainwater Court. The structure is Kenya's first net-positive structure supplying water to the nearby community and will soon generate enough energy to run the village high school.

More than a game
Thanks to the insight and vision of Joseph and Samson Mutongu, a simple basketball court has morphed into a community center, multi-purpose sports facility and the rainwater catchment system for hundreds of children that attend schools located on the campus. The collaborative design process was led by Architecture for Humanity design fellow Greg Elsner, who worked in partnership with the Nobelity Project and the entire community. In early discussions, water was the major issue facing the region, as it was barely surviving due to a three-year drought.


Project Instigators Joseph and Samson Mutongu

Collaborative Building
Greg and the team lived in the village for a year as the building took shape and eventually as it broke ground. Built with local labor, the building acts as an economic anchor training community members and giving them financial support as they develop new skills.

The design is a full-court basketball court with an integrated rainwater collection and UV purification system with solar panels for the water system and night lighting in areas without electricity. The full-court configuration has a 4,850 sq. ft. playing surface covered by metal roof and guttered to collect an estimated 90,000 liters of water per year. The building incorporates 30,000 liters of rainwater storage, with UV purification.

Between the enclosed storage tank/equipment areas, a small stage faces the court, with a permanent, hard-wall backing designed as a movie projection screen. The structure is designed to serve multiple functions for the school, providing a sport facility, purified drinking water, a covered performance space for local music and theater, an outdoor/covered classroom and dining area. It will also provide the area's only community meeting space, a covered farmer's market and more.

The Rainwater Court can transform this community, and is a key component of the new Mahiga Hope High School. The local community has two primary schools with approximately 400 students each. With all boys and girls admitted to the schools without tuition charges, there is an even mix of boys and girls. Education in the area currently ends at 8th grade.


Local contractor smile on completion of areas largest catchment facility

Mahiga Hope High School, a partnership between The Nobelity Project, the Kenyan Regional Education District, and the people of Mahiga now provides a full 12-year high school education for every child. In the video, filmed by Nobelity Project co-founder Turk Pipkin, you can get a sense of the collaborative nature of the project and how a holistic response can positively impact an entire community.

No Ego, No Logo
This structure was designed and built with the community, it is important that the community has full ownership of the building. This is the main reason we do not put logos on buildings. At the end of the construction phase the original community team came together and named the building "The House of Water" for the Village of Mahiga. Alas "House of Rain" didn't make the cut.


Hundreds turn out for the finest game in Kenya

And then the heavens opened
This weekend saw the opening of the court. More than 1,000 people came out, and the party went on for hours. Pro teams came and played the court, local tournaments saw crowds swarm the facility, more than 2,500 books were stacked in the new library and OLPC computers filled the computer room.

The next morning, as if someone heard the good news, the heavens opened up and it started to pour with rain. More than 12,000 liters of fresh water was collected in the first hour giving the village its first taste of clean water in years.


Project Designer Greg Elsner welcomes rain to Mahiga

Special thanks to the village of Mahiga, Nike Social Innovation, Nobelity Project, Greg Elsner, Cristina Tapper, Michael Jones, Willie Nelson, Boslika Building Contractors, Dick Clark Architecture, Elaine Uang, Mazingira & Engineering Consultants and others for their support and dedication.

*There are still ten $25K grants available to upgrade, repair and build sports for social change facilities. Interested? Apply for a grant from the gamechangers sports micro-venture fund