Community Design Archives - SASDI Alliance

Umlilo! How a Mobilised Community Contained Fire Outbreak in Khayelitsha

By CORC, FEDUP, ISN No Comments

By Yolande Hendler (on behalf of CORC)

 “It was about ten to one. We were asleep and suddenly we just heard the ringing of the Lumkani fire detection device. Everyone was shouting ‘umlilo, umlilo!’ which means ‘fire, fire!’ When we woke up and went outside, it was easy to locate the fire because petrol makes high flames. We saw that the fire was burning an entire shack.” (Thamara Hela, Community Leader, UT Gardens)

ISN Community Leader Thamara Hela points to a structure that largely withstood the fire

ISN Community Leader Thamara Hela points to a structure that largely withstood the fire

The community of UT Gardens in Site B Khayelitsha partnered with the Informal Settlement Network (ISN) in early 2014 to install the Lumkani fire detection device in 250 of its 400 households as part of a broader approach to informal settlement upgrading. Since then, at least one fire broke out in the settlement due to an outdoor cooking fire. The incident occurred soon after the Lumkani device was installed in November 2014 and burnt only one shack as the community was alerted through the settlement-wide ringing of the Lumkani device. The fire on January 16, 2016 however, was different.

“It was very difficult to control the fire because of the wind. It spread quickly. Altogether 13 structures burnt down and 2 were damaged. In UT Gardens we have a total of 400 structures with 1402 people living in them. When I saw where the fire was, I called the fire brigade immediately. The owner and his girlfriend were still inside the burning structure. The fire brigade arrived quickly but it took long for them to get inside our settlement because it is so dense. We later found out from the owner of the structure that the fire was started on purpose because there was petrol poured around the structure by a woman in the community.” (Thamara Hela, Community Leader, UT Gardens)

Debris after the fire

Debris after the fire


Clearing debris the morning after the fire

Given the high density of structures the fire quickly spread to surrounding structures and burnt them down, including the home of ISN leader Lumka Khawuta.

“That night I slept at my friend’s place two structures away from my shack. My neighbour was screaming. She has asthma and knew that there was smoke. Before the device rang, she told us there was fire. When I checked, the fire had already reached my shack because it was very windy at that time. I tried calling my brother (we share a structure) and the fire station. There were 3 fire trucks. At first the water was not enough to combat the fire. Many neighbours woke up because the Lumkani device was ringing. As a team we tried to throw water on the flames. It was difficult to stop the fire from spreading because it was started by petrol and reached gas stoves in the other structures. It burnt down everything I have.” (Lumka Khawuta, UT Gardens)

Lumka Khawuta (far right) with installed Lumkani device in background

Lumka Khawuta (far right) with installed Lumkani device in background

The community drew on the City of Cape Town’s advanced disaster kit, which provides 10m2 panels to each affected household. Due to its active membership in ISN and the community’s investment in the cost of the Lumkani device, the community engaged the SA SDI Alliance (including ISN) for assistance. The Alliance agreed to support the affected households with a further 10m2 of material. This enabled the community to rebuild structures at 20m2. Thamara and Lumka, both ISN leaders, pushed for the new structures to be erected in a reblocked layout which would facilitate easier emergency vehicle access and wider pathways between structures. This would enable a more long-term approach to mitigating fires in the future.

Reblocked layout co-designed by community members and CORC

Reblocked layout co-designed by community members and CORC

Thamara Hela and Thembi Ngcuka (CORC) during reconstruction

Thamara Hela and Thembi Ngcuka (CORC) during reconstruction

View on to partially reblocked and reconstructed area with courtyard area in centre

View on to partially reblocked and reconstructed area with courtyard area in centre

The value of a community-wide response

“I am certain that if there was no wind that night less structures would have burnt. When you hear the ringing of the Lumkani device you always wake up because you know something is happening. First your device rings, then it spreads to the neighbours’ devices, then to the mother device. Then all devices in the community start ringing. We know that the devices cannot stop a fire. But if you are alerted you can at least do something about the fire.” (Thamara Hela, UT Gardens)

“The Lumkani device helped because it was making a lot of noise and woke everyone up. All my neighbours have Lumkani, so they got up to help other people.” (Lumka Khawuta, ISN Leader, UT Gardens)

“Seeing that the fire was a case of arson and involved petrol, the Lumkani system worked well; those in the line of the fire were able to wake up. 13 shacks were destroyed but we believe these would have been more without the device and perhaps there would have been lives lost.” (David Gluckman, Director of Lumkani)

“At first the community did not want to contribute to the device. But the reason ISN members believe in contributions is so that the community can help themselves. When we make contributions, we create order in our community. It makes people take responsibility” (Thamara Hela, UT Gardens)

In the reflections of Thamara, Lumka and David (Lumkani Director), the power of a community-wide response is evident. The value of a community-wide response is rooted in an approach where communities take the lead in their own development initiatives: from identifying the value of a technology to co-developing, co-financing co-implementing and co-assessing it.

Alliance and Community Architects Network plan inclusive cities in Philippines

By CORC, FEDUP, ISN, SDI No Comments

By Andiswa Meke (on behalf of CORC)

From 16-23 June 2015, the SA SDI Alliance joined community designers and architects for the third regional workshop of the Community Architects Network (CAN) in Metro Manila, Philippines. The Alliance team consisted of 3 FEDUP and ISN community members who are involved in managing community construction as well as two of CORC’s community architects. The workshop was hosted by CAN’s Philippine Alliance organisations of HPFI (Homeless People’s Federation Philippines Inc.), TAMPEI (technical Assistance Movemnet for People and Environment Inc.) and PACSII (Philippine Action for Community-led Shelter Initiatives, Inc.),


The theme of the 2015 workshop was “Together we CAN! People Planning for future inclusive cities”, emphasizing that strong partnership can yield excellent achievements. There was an estimate of one hundred attendees from different countries (representatives from public institutions, academia, CBOs and NGOs). The workshop spanned eight days and involved several activities: getting to know the Philippine context, sharing various country experiences updates on approaches and experiences of community architecture, reflection sessions and exhibits.

The group split to do community fieldwork in two locations in Metro Manila, the heritage site Intramuros and Muntinlupa City. The SA SDI Alliance members had the honor to work on more than two groups and with different communities. The Alliance sent five members to attend with the aim of exposing them to the programme and gaining knowledge to apply in South African community upgrading. The alliance looked to build and strengthen partnerships and lobby potential stakeholders.

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CAN Background

CAN is a regional network of community architects that focuses on improving the living conditions of poor communities in Asian countries through community-based projects under the Coalition of Community Action Program (ACCA) regarding people housing, city-wide upgrading and recovery from disaster . CAN has opened opportunities for interested young professionals, academic institutes NGOs, CBO`s to come and engage with design skills to support communities in finding solutions to their own needs.


In 2013, a workshop of the same nature took place under the theme “People CAN make change and progress”, where communities were introduced to bringing about change through acquiring tools, skills and information. Communities were taught different skills from mapping and savings to profiling. After the ten day workshop, the community members and architects came up with solutions that would push local government towards building avenues that would represent the people as well as a building plan that would be community driven and understood. The network strongly believes that the role of community architects is to build the capability of people through participatory design and planning so that people themselves become the solution.

CAN 2015 workshop: TOGETHER WE CAN

On the opening day, the host city Intramuros held a number of talks that gave an overview of Philippines informal settlements and introduced city-wide development approaches in Asian cities. The delegates were split into groups and sent to different cities around the Philippines. The purpose was for delegates to identify and resolve issues and share knowledge around the communities.

A public forum took place on the eighth day, where all groups presented their findings and suggestions and were given the opportunity to select the best plan for each community and share their experiences surrounding their visit.

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CAN 45

Challenges for the re-blocking group in informal settlement Sitio Pagkakaisa, Manila

  • Community members who don’t want re-blocking.
  • Critical challenge was the materials the houses were built in, which would not be easy to remove. In some informal settlements people have already secured land tenure with their subsidy money and their savings, they now fear that they will be unable to build houses once the re-blocking takes place

Challenges for the Intramuros, Manila

  • Finding a solution to better the high density of the settlements
  • The most challenging part was designing an upgrading plan that would address the needs and embrace the heritage of the Intramorous communities
  • Issue of land tenure and people living in private land deemed as a major challenge in upgrading –related processes.

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Learning points

  • A community’s knowledge of its settlement is essential for drafting development plans and interacting with government officials about pressing issues in informal settlements. The community seemed informed of the development plan and where they are lacking in terms of services.
  • The partnership between local officials and the community is vital. It is kept strong to an extent that the municipality is willing to communicate and engage with communities regarding housing and informal settlement upgrading.
  • When community leaders have a good relationship with community members, they make informed decision together.
  • Savings is the pillar of creating communal consistency in the informal settlement
  • SA SDI Alliance members learnt how to engage with problem solving in the context of a different country, how to use existing SDI tools in a completely different setting and an approach to building communities with a strong heritage value who showcase this in their planning.
SA SDI Alliance Team

SA SDI Alliance Team

Outcomes of the exchange

  • Intramuros: Suggestions for sustainable and participatory options for informal settlements in Intramuros heritage site, in context of its revitalization plan.
  • Muntinlupa: Suggestions for holistic solutions for informal settlements located in high risk zones with insecurity of tenure
  • CAN delegates managed to advocacy for interaction between Muntinlupa City and its Barangays.
  • New CAN attendees were exposed to the practical implementation of SDI rituals
  • CAN delegates gained membership of the CAN