Africa Defense Forum
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Floating School Brings Hope to ‘Venice of Africa’


Makoko, Nigeria, known as the “slum on stilts” and the “Venice of Africa,” hopes a new floating school will create a better future for children there. The school, built entirely by locals and launched in 2013, has a triangular frame that rises from the water like a half-built house submerged in a flood.

The project, backed by the United Nations Development Programme, the Nigerian government and the Heinrich Boell Foundation, is the brainchild of local architect Kunlé Adeyemi. His design was inspired by life in Makoko, and he said that improving the neglected area required a new approach more in tune with local customs and the environment.

“Living on water is actually a way of life,” he said. “So the question is then how do you improve that condition, how do you address the challenges of living on water in a safe, healthy and environmentally sound way?”

The new school, which is visible from the Third Mainland Bridge, floats on 250 empty blue barrels fixed under its wooden base to get around periodic flooding in the area. Its three stories make it the tallest structure in Makoko and with 220 square meters of floor space, it is also the neighborhood’s biggest communal facility. Fishermen can tether their canoes to the base and mend their nets.

Most of Makoko’s 150,000 residents fish and trade. Art student Jeremiah Oleole Austin is one of the few young people to have gone on to further education. “I was born and brought up here so I know how the people suffer, I feel their pain, I feel their cry, and I also know their happiness,” he said.

“I know what they really need in this community,” he said. “Without some … training or skills, how can they go places? … If there are more schools, I believe there is going to be changes in the community.”

Head teacher Noah Shemede agrees. “Every child deserves an education wherever they are,” he said. “We are on water, and that doesn’t mean that we can’t go to school on water. We have to.”

The design also could be used differently as a prototype in Nigeria and beyond as a home, hospital, theater or restaurant.

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