Balungu is a scattered community near the main road from Tamale to Bolgatanga. Laurence Gruer saw its basic health centre on his first visit in June 2014 and it played a large part in inspiring him to set up Dr Nana. Following further visits by several trustees, it was proposed that a small community maternity centre should be built there. A few months before, a one-room library had been built at nearby Tongo Oasis using the Nubian Vault system. Developed in ancient Egypt using sun-dried mud bricks, the method had been recently revived and adapted with apparent success in neighbouring French-speaking countries. Compared to conventional methods, the NV system was said to be more environmentally-friendly, creating new jobs and resulting in cooler, quieter, durable buildings at much lower cost.
In March 2017, trustees gave the go-ahead to build a six-room centre in partnership with the Nubian Vault Association (NVA), a French-registered NGO. After a successful campaign raised much of the money required, construction began in January 2018. In a race against the arrival of the rainy season, the building was finished on time and handed over to the Talensi Health Service at a special ceremony on 21 June 2018. Everyone was delighted.
Initially, the new facility functioned successfully with many babies safely delivered. However, following unusually heavy rains in August and September, serious subsidence occurred. Two of the six rooms had to be evacuated in October. Although the damage was at first considered by the NVA to be repairable, the building had to be abandoned in April 2019 after further subsidence developed. Two independent architects concluded that the NV method is not suitable for the climatic and soil conditions in Northern Ghana. Following the upgrade of two rooms by Dr Nana in the nearby clinic, a reduced maternity service is being provided. While the NVA accepted some responsibility for what had happened, they declined to offer any compensation.
The completed Maternity Centre, June 2018
Although there was huge disappointment that the building failed, in many respects the project was a success. Despite daily temperatures of 35-45C in the shade, the masons and other tradesmen worked unrelentingly for six months under the leadership of Dan Bangrey. Thanks to numerous fund-raising activities, over £44,000 was raised. Although the structure has been lost, all the fixtures, fittings and equipment have been saved. Valuable lessons have been learnt. A small "hybrid" NV building has been constructed at Tongo Oasis. This appears much more resistant to rain but will have to be exposed to at least a fully cycle of wet and dry seasons before its resilience can be assessed.