Hesperian Health Guides

Hesperian Health Guides

Planning with Communities

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HealthWiki > A Community Guide to Environmental Health > Chapter 17: A Healthy Home > Planning with Communities


When people plan and build their own homes and communities together, they have more control over their lives and can develop a plan that fulfills their needs, hopes, and desires. As much as possible, governments and community development agencies should involve people in planning and maintaining their own housing projects. Remember, at its best, a community is more than a group of houses. In a vibrant community, each home is connected by shared public spaces, such as gardens, water and washing facilities, markets, schools, and other places where people interact.

Building housing requires people to work together. If planners, builders, development agencies, and housing providers encourage people to work together in ways that promote education, skill-sharing, and full participation, they will not only build housing, they will build healthy communities.

A community viewed from above.
Building homes and community

For many years, poor people in South Africa have lived with a housing crisis that makes their poverty and health problems worse. The government tried to solve this by building housing for poor people. But the new houses were small, dark, too close together, and built in such a way that they were either too hot or too cold. They were far from schools, health centers, and shops, and had poor access to water, poor sanitation, did not keep the bad weather out, and needed to be repaired often. They just kept poor people poor.

In response to these problems, a group called Tlholego came together to build a new kind of village. They designed homes using locally available materials like earth, bricks, and straw. Using mud bricks on stone foundations, they designed and built houses that were healthy and attractive for the lowest possible cost (a little more than US $1000 for each house).

Besides being comfortable, the houses were designed to make the best use of local conditions. They had electricity, tanks to collect rainwater, gardens that reused water from the kitchen and bath, composting toilets, water heated by the sun, and window screens to keep insects out. With windows facing the sun, shade trees all around, and solid mud brick walls, the houses were protected from extreme heat and cold. Tlholego taught people how to build the houses. This saved on construction costs, and made sure each family had a house they were proud to live in.

The houses were planned and built around common spaces, such as roads, gardens, and public buildings. This way, each family’s home was a part of the larger community. Tlholego organized an education and training program for adults, and a school where children could learn reading and math, and also about farming, health, and the environment.

A community viewed from above.


Tlholego is an “eco-village,” a village built in harmony with the environment and the needs of its people. Rather than building cheap homes for poor people, Tlholego built a community. Through their success, Tlholego showed it was possible for people who were once forced to live in poverty to use their own resources to build homes and a community rich in dignity.


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