The American Research Center in Eygpt




Piles of limestone debris are reused in flooring, paving and pathway borders. Photo: A. Damarany

Two practices are deeply integrated into the site improvement operations of ARCE/Luxor: material reuse and skills mentoring. The practice of providing locally employed unskilled laborers with an opportunity to improve their knowledge of basic masonry by learning from skilled masons has evolved over the past five years into a quasi apprenticeship program. The practice began during the implementation of the USAID-funded Cultural Heritage Tourism Project and its predecessor, the Site Improvement and Job Creation Project. Along with skills enhancement comes an emphasis on reusing debris and scrap materials as a means to lower costs, limit solid waste and pass cost savings along to future customers by reusing and recycling materials.

Trainees learn to stretch expensive building materials with recycled strips of limestone scrap. Photo: A. Damarany


Unskilled laborers, hired to haul debris as part of successive USAID-funded job creation projects in Luxor, can opt to improve their skills in addition to a earning monthly wage while working for ARCE. According to John Shearman, ARCE/Luxor Associate Director, the workers don’t earn more and the work is harder, but there is a chance for growth, and with this growth comes the potential for greater earnings in the future. Shearman’s personal experiences as an apprentice carpenter in trade school and later as a construction and project manager advising American vocational and technical school boards shaped his commitment to providing mentoring and training opportunities in Luxor.

One basic but important skill being taught is mud brick production and masonry. Mud brick construction holds its own as a contemporary building method particularly in hot climates like Upper Egypt where daily average temperatures reach 41°C (106°F). Earth based construction is naturally insulated so buildings are cooler in summer and warmer in winter than their cement equivalents and can reduce dependence on air conditioning, an environmental and financial incentive in the cash-strapped local economy.

Through its training program ARCE has produced tens of thousands of mud bricks with the building debris from clean up operations in Gourna, Dra Abu Nagaa and Qurnet Maur’i on Luxor’s west bank. According to Shearman the quantity of debris at these sites was so vast that it either had to be used or hauled away and dumped. It was at this point that he began limited production of mud brick to use for site improvements on ARCE projects in 2011. Soon other foreign archaeological and research missions partnered with the Ministry of Antiquities near Luxor began to ask about ARCE’s mud brick making capacity.

Learning to produce high quality mud brick gives unskilled laborers an edge in the local labor market. Photo: A. Damarany

With a year-round presence in Luxor and an abundance of recyclable debris ARCE alone among the foreign missions was in a position to adequately train and economically produce mud brick for site improvements. Roughly 40,000 mud bricks have been commissioned to fill the needs of the Italian mission, Chicago House and the University of Arizona, who use the brick for site improvements such as capping existing mud brick structures and enclosure walls. All bricks bear the stamp of their respective mission, distinguishing the modern bricks from ancient brick remains that may be present on the site. By rotating people through the mentoring operation and giving trainees enough time to fully develop and master new transferable skills, roughly 32 people have expanded their skills and boosted their earnings potential since January 2015.

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