Sderot’s dusty streets and woeful aspect come naturally after enduring years of rocket attacks from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. In this Western Negev town in Israel, all bus stops are small bomb shelters. A traffic roundabout represents the town center, with a pizzeria, a stationary store, and some tired-looking clothing shops around it.
The young, active population has long ago left, seeking better employment opportunities and quality of life elsewhere. But the periphery town has received an boost of young energy and willpower from a new student village constructed by the students themselves, out of recycled shipping containers.
Five to six million shipping containers are on the seas at any given moment. What can be done with them after they’re no longer considered seaworthy? Ayalim, Israel’s largest youth organization, has an answer: construct sustainable housing out of them, and rent them out cheaply to students in development towns. The Sderot project is one of 12 such student villages constructed in periphery areas through Ayalim. We wrote about one built in Lod, central Israel.
The Sderot student village project launched last June has completed 36 units, each housing two students. Ultimately, the village will boast of 150 apartments constructed of shipping containers stacked three stories high, each two sharing a bomb shelter. 1000 students and pre-army volunteers learned construction skills as they worked. 300 of them will remain in the village to study at the nearby Sapir Academic College. In exchange for the subsidized rent, the students commit to 500 annual hours of social work in the Sderot community.
The hope is that the youngsters will stay in Sderot after their studies, eventually integrating into the larger community and infusing it with a significant socio-economic boost.
Ayalim representative Effie Rubin, also one of the organization’s founders, said:
“If we want to change the reality towards better education and job opportunities, we need to bring young people to the periphery towns.There’s no reason why the majority of Israelis should squeeze into Tel Aviv. People can live in nice houses like these for NIS600 a month.
“Our hope is that the students have an amazing experience and decide to stay. We did a survey and discovered that students’ greatest obstacle to studying in the Negev and other periphery areas is lack of affordable housing. There are no decent cheap apartments in the Negev or the Galilee. The second discovery was that they tend to stay if they’re given a continuous sense of community; a feeling of being part of a group.”
Cargotecture is good for students and the planet
According to an Ayalim survey conducted last year, the villages so far are providing students satisfaction on both counts.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Energy and Water Minster Silvan Shalom made an appearance at the official inauguration of the Sderot village last week. Both spoke of socio-economic reform in the hands of the coming generation.
The most important attraction for the youngsters is the opportunity to take part in real social activism, but the green aspect also draws them. Only a minimum of concrete is used in the construction, and a layer of insulation is placed between the steel and the drywall. Artificial grass covers the public areas, as it would be unrealistic to lay living grass down in the thirsty climate of the Western Negev. Trees planted in recycled, painted barrels dot the paths. As is customary in Israel, solar heaters will be going up on the rooftops to make sure there’s hot water when needed.
“A grassroots organization like Ayalim can’t deal with thousands of these units,” says Rubin. “Our aim is to be a model, to show Israel and the world that fast, cheap, and good-quality housing can be made out of shipping containers and good will.”
Read more on shipping container architecture:
Photographs by Miriam Kresh.