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20th December 1998

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A 'real' home for Christmas

By Chamintha Thilakarathna

Yesterday 23 fishing families in Porothota, Negombo received their Christmas gifts in advance. Not toy cars, make-up sets, jewellery or fancy clothes. Not even fishing boats or new sails. A roof over their heads - a basic for many of us, yet an unaffordable luxury to them.

Three year old Ashan Eranda and his seven year old sister Shyami Nadeesha are filled with good cheer. The season of goodwill and joy has little to do with it.

They are thrilled that at last, this Christmas they will be decorating a real brick house- not their old, fragile cadjan house.

For the Poruthota fisher children, the two o'clock school bell does not signal the time to go home and relax. Instead they all rush to the construction site of their new houses. Shyami, exchanges her school uniform to old clothes and starts looking for bricks, cement and tools to help her parents with the construction work. They do the simplest menial jobs but they are thrilled to be there, watching as brick by brick, their new houses reach completion. More so than the pampered youngster who opens a well wrapped gift to find a train set or the latest barbie doll in town.

23- year- old Rathgamage Mallika Appuhamy, Shyami's mother was walking proof of all the hard-work and effort that has gone into their new home. Her clothes decorated with paint and cement, Mallika smiled from inside the shell of the house, which was receiving finishing touches when we visited the village last week.

Last year, a communal dispute on the Poruthota beach left sixteen houses including Mallika's in ashes. For the fisherfolk of the area this incident spelled doom. The affected were dispersed, forcing them to find uncongenial temporary shelter offered by relatives and friends. Many children had to stop schooling as a result. When they watched their old homes go up in flames that night, little would they have thought that hope would enter their lives again-so soon.

This Catholic community had nearly given up pleading to God for a better deal when Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka, a non-profit organisation found them and volunteered to help these families brighten their lives.

Kumara (29) and Mignon (25) was another family busy adding final touches to their two- room house with a latrine.

"We could not be more fortunate," they beamed. "In a matter of days we will be living in our own brick house built by our own hands, just like we always wanted to."

When Habitat officials first visited the area, after the riot, they found foundations but no houses. The foundations had been laid by former parish priest of Negombo, Rev. Ivan Petersz of SEDIC (Small Economic Development Institute of Colombo). Then, volunteers started pouring into the village including Rohan Salgado of EFSO (Establishment for Small Organisations) who played a large role in the project. The preliminary planning got under way one and a half years ago. And, the actual construction only on November 24. And yesterday, all the families became happy owners to new houses.

These families were selected on the basis of who suffered in last year's riots between the Sinhalese fisherfolk and their Muslim neighbours. The dispute was so bad that politicians, religious leaders and others had to interfere to calm the situation. But today, they are all happy and united. Once rivals, they helped each other with the construction of the new houses.

For the last two months, the 23 lucky fishing households at Porothota have had nothing but the houses on their minds. The scene is a breath- taking one for anyone who walks into the little village by the sea. The older residents are packing their humble wares, preparing to shift, while the younger and fitter were involved with the construction. It's good-bye time to the hardboard and cadjan houses which they have been living in ever since birth.

"The houses are economical and basic," said project officials.

Each house is built on a 260 square foot area and consists of a small verandah at the entrance which leads to a fair-sized living room. This room extends to a larger one to be used as bed room cum kitchen. A door from this room makes way to the latrine outside. The doors are well equipped with safety locks, widows panelled, cement on the floor and clay -tiles on the roof. Habitat is also making arrangements to get water and electricity facilities to the 23 families once they move in.

"Our estimate per house was Rs.50,000 but the cost varied between Rs.52-55,000," the project affiliates said.

Of course, the residents must put in eight 'sweat hours' per day. And, that is not all, they must also pay back the expenses.

"An interest free repayable system has been introduced to help these families repay the cost, so that Habitat will be able to support a similar group of families with that money," they said.

How do they pay back the cost? "The families have selected one representative per five families who will collect Rs. 20 from each family per day. At the end of the month each family would have collected Rs.600 which would be saved in their Kamalthota Fishermen's Bank on a weekly basis. This money would go to pay back the house cost every month.

At the same time, these fishermen are also getting a training in housing construction by four professional masons who direct the work. Recently, even the Directors of Habitat were seen on the Negombo beach, giving a hand to these family members.

When The Sunday Times visited Lal Celsius Pieris and Selverani Perera were colour washing their house. "On Saturday (19) we would be living in our new house, and what better Christmas can we ask for, than to celebrate Christmas in our own house."

A healing touch of the hand

Well-known Mumbai-based practitioner of alternative medicine, Dr. Venugopal Nair, is currently in Colombo to heal patients through acu-massage and related therapies.
Yamini Sequeira speaks to him on the benefits of this treatment....

Dr. Nair defines Alternative Medicine as any other medicine besides 'western' medicine or allopathy as we know it. About 180 different fields of Alternative Medicine are practised worldwide. Alternative medicine is essentially complementary to the traditional allopathic one. Dr. Venugopal Nair is quick to assert that alternative medicine does not reject traditional western medicine but attempts to supplement it with other treatments for a holistic cure.

The headquarters of the Alternative Medicine Doctors' Association Worldwide is in Sri Lanka - spearheaded by Dr. Anton Jayasuriya. Dr. Nair has visited the island on earlier occasions for conferences, but this is the first time he is here for a month-long stay as a consultant.

Though it is supplementary in nature, in certain cases it can even stand alone, like in treating arthritis, rheumatism, back-pain, gastritis, sinusitis, spondolysis, stress, etc. Alternative therapy looks at the patients' problem as a whole. Dr. Nair studies the patient's mental, emotional, physical indications before he pronounces his diagnosis. He feels he has achieved most satisfactory results from homeopathy, acupressure, acu-massage and magnet therapy, which he employs as a regular part of his treatment.

Treating patients through acu-massage help relieve stress in their bodies since he is of the firm belief that most aches and pains accrue from built-up stress that is not being released in a constructive manner and therefore results in physiological ailments. Says a lady patient who was treated by Dr. Nair, "After the acu-massage I feel like a real weight was lifted off me. I got instant relief because his massage released some tense spots in my shoulder I never even knew existed."

One of the other benefits of alternative medicine, the doctor feels, is the fact that the patient and doctor are able to establish a positive rapport and this he feels puts the patient on the road to recovery. Sometimes he gets patients who come to him with negative and apprehensive feelings. He says in most cases it is impossible to heal such people when they are willing to be healed and put their faith in him.

He believes in a certain 'energy' that is being passed from the healer to the patient. The doctor also uses vibratory methods, whereby he puts his palms a little distance away from the area to be healed and finds the patients bodies sometimes vibrates as the negative energy is drawn out of them.

The interesting aspect of Dr. Nair's foray into alternative medicine was a direct result of owning one of the largest allopathic pharmacies in Mumbai. Over the years he was slowly rejecting this stream because he says people would clamour to the pharmacy asking for pills for various ailments and pop them without a thought for side-effects and without acquainting the pharmacist as to their case history. Thus he turned to practising homeopathy and consequently other related alternative therapy treatments. Most of his patients come to him with 'pain related' ailments. He cites a case of a Delta Airlines steward back home, whose back pain was so debilitating that he feared he would be laid off his job. Just three sittings of acu-massage put him back on his feet. Dr. Nair prefers not to work with acupuncture as he feels the very sight of the sharp needles is enough to deter most patients and the right rapport is not established between patient and doctor. Both mind and body are given equal importance in his therapy. Today, Dr. Nair is one of many medical practitioners worldwide who are propagating the use of alternative medicine as a very benevolent form of therapy if used timely.

(Dr. Venugopal Nair can be reached on telephone number 724801 for appointments)

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