A novel housing
scheme in Nuwara Eliya helps poor families save and build
Building a legacy
Nuwara Eliya is often called a garden city. But amidst
its lush tea-clad hills, plush hotels and flower-filled gardens
are many pockets of poor housing, where large families live in deplorable
conditions. Many of these homes are makeshift shacks, made of tin
sheets or cheap planks, protected by plastic sheets. When it rains,
water pours in from all sides and the inhabitants have little protection.
elderly mother and son have got reason to smile
in line: Jayalakshmi and her son in front of their house
Chandralatha, a mother of four young children, lived in one such
structure that was close to collapse. "We were asked to vacate
as the land belonged to the Forest Department," Chandralatha
they gave us a plot of land further away to build another house,
we had no means to build anything." Chandralatha's husband
who was a casual labourer was unable to work due to ill-health.
The children aged from 7 to 14 were too young to contribute to the
family income. They were indeed in a sad plight.
this poor family, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Nuwara Eliya
heard of their plight. "We wanted to do something for the poor
to celebrate our centenary in October last year," said Sister
John, Superior of Good Shepherd Convent. "When we visited this
family and saw how they lived, we felt compelled to do something
to ease their situation. These children were not unhappy but were
undernourished and their environment was not healthy. We began to
put aside money to help with their house."
With much struggle
the house was built. Since the land was located in the interior
with no motorable access, all the building materials had to be carried
a long way. "Chandralatha worked really hard," Sr. John
said. "She carried the bags of cement from the lorry all the
way to the site and even dug the ground for the toilet."
are happy," said Chandralatha, beaming while two of her children
Nishani and Salitha stood beside her. "We have two rooms, a
kitchen and a toilet."
When this house
was completed the need to continue reaching out to other poor families
became evident. At this stage, a generous benefactor came to their
aid by donating Rs. one lakh towards the project. The Sisters were
able to improve two more houses. As they identified more families
needing decent housing, they turned to Habitat for Humanity, an
organization dedicated to building houses for needy people.
Habitat for Humanity, a committee was formed with the Superiors
of all the convents and churches in the area, irrespective of denomination,
as well as some lay people. Applications were called for from those
in need. The members of the committee visited the families and selected
the most deserving. Sr. John said they concentrated on families
with children. Though the parents earned a meagre income, she said
they could not obtain bank loans because they lived a hand-to-mouth
existence. "Working in cultivation lands as labourers and having
no steady employment, parents try to feed their children in the
best way they can, but it hardly satisfies the needs of a family,"
said Sr. John. "One can't imagine how a family of 7 can share
½ kg of rice. When children don't have enough to eat, they
cannot attend school."
Humanity's plan is 'Save and Build'. Selected families are formed
into groups of 12. The first house built was that of Rose Virginie,
whose husband now works in the Habitat stall in the town. The twelve
families saved a small sum each month. In six months they had saved
Rs. 36,000. This money was used to rebuild the house in most urgent
need of attention. Habitat gives the rest needed as a loan to the
family. In the process of building, the house owners give of their
time and energy, together with their neighbours. This cuts down
on the expense. After one house is completed, the group members
continue saving for the next house.
was leaking badly," said Rose Virginie, the mother of three
small children. "It was built of planks and cardboard. Now
we have two good rooms built. We are continuing to save to repay
our loan and help the other families with their houses." Jayalakshmi,
who lives next door, is the next on the list for rebuilding in the
group. Jayalakshmi lives with her aged parents and a 3-½
year old son who is mentally retarded, while her husband is employed
on an estate.
is happy to have three rooms rebuilt for her family. A widow, with
four children, of whom three are schooling, her mother and unmarried
sister also live with her. They earn an income cultivating vegetables
on their 15 perches of land and running a small shop for the people
living nearby. A portion of her house remains to be completed but
they are protected from the cold and rain in the newly built section.
Sr. John said
they have adopted a concept of Building in Stages which
enables them to reach out to a larger segment of the needy. "Building
in stages through savings makes them feel that they need commitment,
contribution and dedication to be liberated," Sr. John said.
"While strengthening this concept, they need the financial
help of the donors, which helps them to feel they are not alone
in their struggle."
While the householders
groups raise part of the money for building through savings, the
Habitat for Humanity committee has to find funds to meet the balance
costs. A basic house of 350 square feet would cost around Rs.80,000.
A homeowner, whose house was completed, commented that his children,
who were always out during the day, now stay indoors, enjoying their
comfortable new house. The committee fervently hopes they could
find people willing to extend a helping hand to help many more of
these very poor families.