Taking the Eco-Dome to Darfur

When I give money to nonprofits, I look for ones that work like startups. I recently found one that is like a startup not only in its smallness, but also in the use of cool new technology.

You've probably read about all the horrible things happening in Darfur recently. The American Sudanese Partnerships for Peace is going to try to repair some of the damage. And they're doing it in the most literal sense: they're going to help the Sudanese rebuild their destroyed villages, using some innovative construction techniques developed by CalEarth.

CalEarth's Eco-Dome can be built out of nothing more than dirt, barbed wire, and the same kind of polyethylene bags used to make sandbags to contain floods. The house will probably last longer if you mix some cement with the dirt, but it's not absolutely necessary. The bags come in the form of a continuous tube, and the house is constructed of layers of dirt-filled "snakes," with barbed wire laid between them to keep them from moving.

It's 21st-century adobe: faster and easier than traditional adobe construction, because you don't have to make and dry individual bricks. This construction technique can be learned quickly by anyone, and is about the cheapest possible way to build lasting shelter. But these are by no means temporary buildings; they are so robust that they meet California building codes.

The ASP is taking the Eco-Dome to Darfur. I learned about them because Y Combinator's architect, Kate Courteau, is part of the group. Kate is the reason our places in Cambridge and Mountain View look so cool. She designed not only the spaces, but also the pair of identical 30-foot tables we have in each. If you were wondering about the blur in the background in the image on our front page, that's Kate, rushing off to do the next thing on the to-do list in her hand.

I can't say for certain that this scheme is going to work, but it has as much as we ever ask for in a startup: good people and a good idea.

If you want to help them, you can donate online. They're a registered nonprofit, so donations are tax-deductible.