Minnesota Soybean Business

Safe at home: when disaster strikes, GoServ Global answers the call

Sometimes, a home can be found – and built – in the most unlikely of places.

The structure at Farmfest 2018 may have looked like a grain bin at first sight, but the sign atop the bin said it all: “This is a house.”

Really. Come on in…

“Everybody wonders if it’s really a home,” says Eric Williams of GoServ Global, a non-profit missionary group that aids impoverished countries with disaster relief. “You can always tell a real farmer who has spent a lot of time in grain bins – they’ll put their head in, but they won’t walk in. You almost have to drag them in because they don’t believe it’s cooler in there.”

But it is cooler inside a Safe T Home. Much cooler. During a steamy summer afternoon at the 2018 Farmfest, fairgoers were shocked to find themselves refreshed when they ventured inside. Williams insists the heat shield helps the home stay about 10 degrees cooler on average.

“The inside roof doesn’t get any direct sunlight because of that heat shield,” Williams says. “It’s like being under a shade tree.”

40 man hours. $7,000. That’s how long it takes and costs to construct a Safe T Home. Indeed, as the old adage goes: it takes more than a hammer and nails to make a house a home.

“If you get ten people, you can put one up in half a day,” says Williams, GoServ’s Peruvian director. “It’s phenomenal for the price.”

The first Safe T Homes were built in the aftermath of the earthquake that devastated Haiti in January 2010. GoServ co-founder Ken DeYoung is an Iowa farmer and licensed pilot who uses Sukup Manufacturing Co. grain bins and driers on his operation. After the earthquake, DeYoung flew to Haiti to bring relief supplies. Seeing firsthand a third world country in desperate need of resources and shelter, DeYoung and his GoServ co-founder, Terry Baxter, launched GoServ. The group then set about partnering with Sukup to erect temporary Safe T Home shelters for earthquake victims.

“Sukup had an engineer who had developed a Safe T Home and asked if they could use it,” Williams says. “It was meant to be a quick, inexpensive way to get temporary housing. We’d build these houses and in the meantime, build up their infrastructure, too.”

The Safe T Homes are 18 feet in diameter and feature 8-foot sidewalls and are usable for up to 80 years. The “steel cabins” stand 13.5’ from bottom to roof peak, have 254 square feet of interior usable space and a water collection potential that is standard on all units. Residents use them primarily for shelter and sleep; kitchen material and bathrooms are used in other buildings. They’ve also been used for storm shelters and medical recovery units.

In 2016, the Safe T Homes passed a stressed test when Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti.

“So far nothing’s destroyed them,” Williams says.

The Safe T Homes were an instant hit with the locals. To the surprise of GoServ, the Haitians living in the Safe T Homes wanted to use the shelters for permanent use. GoServ started building more homes. Today, eight years after the earthquake, GoServ has built dental and medical clinics, a school and more than 300 permanent Safe T Home for the Haitian people. The organization has since conducted recovery missions in India, Guatemala, Kenya Uganda and Peru. GoServ also offers domestic disaster relief, helping with Hurricane Harvey relief efforts as well as communities in Iowa recover from storm damage.

Eric Williams of GoServ Global brought the organization’s Safe T Home on the road to Farmfest in 2018

At a recent trade show, GoServ Executive Director Paul van Gorkom recalled seeing a women becoming excited and emotional when she saw the Safe T Home display.

“She was so excited to see the home because she had lived in one for two years,” he says. “She said these were the best homes you could have, given their circumstances and conditions.”

‘Blessing the world’

To increase awareness, GoServ brought Safe T Homes on the road to about 20 events throughout the Midwest in 2018. At the Iowa-Iowa State football game in September 2018, celebrities from both schools competed to see who could build a Safe T Home fastest.

“It was a really cool way to show people how quickly they can build these homes,” Williams says. “We’ve gotten a great response at all the trade shows and events we go to.”

GoServ is entirely funded by donations; directors like Williams raise funds for their own salaries and don’t take a percentage from donations.

“One thing I really love about our project is people can specify exactly where their money goes,” he says.

Farmers and agriculture companies are vital to GoServ’s mission and are one of the foundation’s biggest donor blocs.

“What I love about the project is that farmers are coming together to bless the world,” Williams says. “It’s so cool to be a part of something’s that’s really ag-based. It’s neat to see how rural American can affect the world in such a mighty way.”

Farmers are also GoServ volunteers. As part of GoServ’s mission, farmers lend a hand and help teach the locals taught how to grow crops.

Everyone involved in GoServ brings a ‘pay it forward’ attitude, van Gorkom says.

“Farmers are fabulous to take to these countries because they have so much to offer and have so many skills,” van Gorkom says. “Once people see what we do with GoServ and the Safe T Homes, they fall in love with it.”

Safe T Homes at a glance:

  • 20 gauge galvanized steel for around a estimated 75-80 year life expectancy
  • Round design sheds design will withstand high winds
  • Near sero zeismic load; is virtually earthquake proof
  • Windows come with 16-gauge, galvanized perforated steel screens and have lockable covers for security
  • Made of 90 percent recyclable materials
  • Roof can support 5,000 pounds for adding a sleeping loft or storage.
  • Termite, fire and water proof for longevity
  • 10 Safe T Homes can fit into a single shipping container
  • Can be transported by truck, boat or mule
  • One small solar panel comes standard for one light


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