Nadège Quintallet trains women in the Pantanal slum in Nicaragua to build mud-brick houses.
People are forever reminding you that you’re the same age Jesus was! What are your thoughts?
I may be 33 and involved in humanitarian work, but I’m definitely not bearing any crosses! In fact, I’m actually quite selfish! I do what I do because I enjoy it. I actually love it! I love working with people.
I realised that we could build houses with the earth beneath our feet.
Did your childhood in a Parisian suburb have any impact on your decision to improve housing for those in need?
As a child, I felt locked away in some kind of grey, concrete prison. I think that’s what ultimately led me to where I am now. All that dismal architecture made me want to improve people’s everyday lives and housing. I’ve always believed that everyone should have the right to live and thrive in a beautiful environment.
You went to fine art school in Le Mans, and specialised in architecture and then earthen architecture…
I stumbled upon this specialist field by accident on a student trip to Peru. I realised that we could build houses with the earth beneath our feet. We can use the earth to create beautiful, rock-solid structures.
In 2011, Habitat Cité dispatched you to improve the lives of families in the Pantanal slum.
Most of these women live alone with their children. They don’t have husbands or resources and survive in the streets, with nothing but plastic tarp to protect them. They and their children are at extremely high risk of violence, theft and illness. By giving a woman access to housing, you’re giving her back some dignity and allowing her to hold her head up high and provide shelter for her entire family.
In three years, you’ve helped train nearly 17 women to build their own homes.
I’ve signed up for an extra year on the ground. I never tire of wandering around the slum and seeing these women making their homes their own. They’re so proud to invite us in and show us their houses. You see them cleaning, watering their plants. And the children are happy. It’s wonderful!
Inexpensive and recyclable, mud-bricks meet anti-earthquake standards and are eco-friendly as they air-dry outside.