Breaking Barriers

Breaking Barriers

Meghamala (47) is a single mother living in Katana, caring for both her aged mother Agnes (82) and her granddaughter Oshadi (7). While she has two sons, her eldest son (Oshadi’s father) works as a daily-wage labourer and contributes little towards Oshadi’s well-being and daily needs. Meghamala’s husband who was the sole breadwinner of the family throughout their 20-year marriage, left her and the children destitute when he abandoned her. Without a place of their own to call home, Meghamala and the children were forced to move into a rented one-bedroom space, and have been living there for many years. Although she has inherited a plot of land, she lacks much-needed funds to build a home.

Not having any other means of providing for her family, Meghamala began her own home-based business of sewing door-mats with fabric. This small-scale business generates only a very limited income, therefore Meghamala also depends on her younger son Nishad (24) to support her and the family. Very often Meghamala and the family have been forced to seek help to pay rent and meals, from neighbours and relatives, which weighs heavy on Meghamala’s heart.

She says, their dire financial circumstances have been exacerbated further due to the Covid-19 crisis. She no longer makes any sales on her doormats and her two sons are also without an income as daily-wage labourers have lost all job opportunities during the quarantine period.

To Meghamala and her family, a new home would be symbolic of self-reliance. They will be safe in a space of their own and there will be no additional burdens of having to pay rent and risk of eviction – and this will no doubt help enhance their quality of life and sense of stability.

“Each month, we’re at the mercy of our landlord, unsure if we will be evicted if we’re unable to cover the cost of the rent. All I have ever wanted to was to know that my family will one day have a place of our own to call home. A new home would mean the world to us… it would give us breathing space.” – Meghamala, Negombo

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Hoping for a Safe Haven

Hoping for a Safe Haven

Irangani (42) and her family of five, live in a small tin hut which only has space to accommodate five plastic chairs and a small wooden stove. Irangani and her family spend the day in the hut and go to her mother’s house many meters away, just to sleep at night. The family has been following this routine for the past 23 years due to the inadequate space and lack of security of their current temporary shelter.

Irangani’s husband Nimalasiri (48) is a daily-wage labourer who earns only LKR 22,000 a month – that too depends entirely on whether he is able to secure work that month. Together they have a young daughter, Dinudi (11) and two sons, Sarath (26) and Chamira (21), who also work as daily-wage labourers, hoping to supplement their father’s income. Unfortunately, Sarath met with an accident a few years ago and has been unable to work since.  Following the accident, Sarath has been unable to do any strenuous work. This not only took a toll on them financially, but it was also been emotionally challenging for all of them having to watch Sarath adjust to his new life. 

Irangani and Nimalsiri have tried hard to provide the best medical treatment to help Sarath recover, by obtaining a loan to cover the expenses. Speaking of her son’s condition Irangani says, “it is unbearable to watch him like this; he was independent and capable but now he has no job and is unable to do basic things; he has not been the same since the accident.”

“Every day is a constant battle to keep going. A home of our own seems like a distant dream. My entire married life has been spent in this little hut, my children have not known any other home. I’m praying for a miracle for my family. For a second chance at life for my children. My dream is to be able to provide a home that is safe and secure for my children, without having to move from place to place every night.”

Irangani

Yatawatta, Matale

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Irangani’s dream was to give her children a sound education, but her sons were never able to pursue an education due to financial constraints. Now her only hope is to ensure that Dinudi is given a ladder to a better future. Dinudi loves going to school and will be scored well at the recently concluded scholarship examination. However, Irangani and Nimalsiri find it difficult to pay LKR 500 needed for Dinudi’s extra classes monthly and LKR 1,500 needed to stitch two uniforms for her each year.

The family depends on Irangani’s mother for safety, as they travel to her house each night to sleep. With no access to electricity, Dinudi studies with the aid of a kerosene oil lamp and Irangani travels at least 500m to the closest well each morning to collect water. Having no access to adequate toilet facilities, Dinudi very often waits to go to school to use the school toilets or waits to go to her grandmother’s home whenever possible.

In Search of Permanence

In Search of Permanence

Rohan was a happy-go-lucky young boy who dreamed of a future in the big city one day. Tragically, he met with a life-altering accident when he was a teenager and lost his right foot as a result. RohanApart from having to adjust to a future with a life-long impairment, Rohan also had to give up on his dreams of leaving the village and travelling to Colombo in search of a job. Rohan was often overlooked when job opportunities arose, because of his disability. Even though he was faced with insurmountable obstacles, Rohan never let it disillusion him.

He met Shriyani nearly 16 years ago and today, they share a life together with their two daughters Nirosha (20) and Tharushi (15) in Katana. From the start, Rohan and Shriyani were faced with heartbreak as their first-born son was born with congenital birth defects, and was paralysed as a result. He lived in a paralysed state for nearly 23 years, with Shriyani as his primary care giver. Taking care of her son’s medical needs meant that Shriyani was unable to engage in any full-time work. Nearly two years ago, the young boy passed away due to health complications, and while they grieve for his loss, they strive to move forward in life while honouring his memory.

Rohan works as a watchman overseeing a Coconut Estate, and Shriyani also contributes in every way she can to make ends meet, by cooking homemade string hoppers to order. Rohan and Shriyani, constantly worry for their daughters’ safety and their future.

“Our only wish is to see that our two girls will have a safe and permanent place to call home. We never know when we will be asked to leave the estate where we currently stay. This feeling of instability is what keeps us up at night. It would be a dream come true to finally have a place to go to sleep at night, knowing that it is a place of our own.”

Rohan Priyantha

Negombo, Gampaha District

Their eldest daughter Nirosha, who recently turned 21, is currently employed in a store in Negombo town. Even though she secured good results at the Advanced level examination; she gave up on her dreams of pursuing higher studies in order to contribute financially to the needs of the household. Having seen the economic hardships her parents have battled for many years, Nirosha’s only dream is to be able to provide for sister and parents, giving them a better life. She encourages her younger sister Tharushi to pursue her higher education so that she will have a chance at a brighter future.

The family currently lives in a small temporary one-room wooden shack meant to be inhabited only by the watchman of the estate. The family is forced to move whenever Rohan is assigned duties at a new estate, which has created a great sense of instability and uncertainty in their lives. 

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A Ladder to a Better Future

A Ladder to a Better Future

Dinithi (29) and Dushantha (35), the young parents of Oshani (8) and Oveesha (4 months) greet us on the porch of their rented, partially constructed one-room they call home.

Dinithi tells us that many years ago, Dushantha purchased a small plot of land in the nearby village with the hopes of constructing a home of their own one day. However due to severe financial constraints, they have been unable to save enough to construct a home of their own. They currently live in a small one-bedroom shelter which is on a land that belongs to a family friend. In return for looking after the property, Dinithi and her family have been allowed to live in the partially constructed room for a nominal rent.

Dushantha works hard to make ends meet by working in a Fiberglass Factory close by to their village. His meagre salary of LKR 20,000 is spent on rent, food, children’s expenses and medicines for Dinithi’s elderly mother, Katherine (54). Each month they stretch their income as much as possible to provide for their entire family, but similar to most low-income families, Dinithi and Dushantha are unable to make ends meet.

Dinithi constantly worries for Oshani’s safety as she grows up in an unsafe neighbourhood. With no proper toilet and bathroom of their own, the family uses a open bathing area behind the house. The lack of adequate sanitation facilities makes the family even more susceptible to various illnesses and diseases. Each year as the monsoon approaches Dinithi shudders in fear for the safety of her family. The five members of the family all share a small 150 sq.ft. room, and all sleep on the floor. During times of heavy rains, they have no safe and dry place to sleep. Oshani tries hard to keep her books safe from the rain and the enclosed space which lacks adequate ventilation and lighting, is especially dangerous for Oveesha who is just a baby.

“We never imagined that our children would have to grow up in worse circumstances than we did. All we ever wanted to give them was a safe place to call home and an opportunity to do something good with their lives. Today, we are struggling to feed them even one meal a day. We can only dream of being able to provide them with a home of their own.”

Dinithi Perera

Negombo, Gampaha District

The COVID19 lockdown has pushed Dinithi and Dushantha further into poverty, as they are unable to earn any money during this time. Negombo being identified as a High-Risk Area, Dushantha has been unable to go to work for nearly 6 weeks due to the indefinite curfew that has been imposed by the Government. At first even though the Fibreglass factory he works at offered him half-month salary in the month of March, they have informed him that he will not be receiving a salary in April. Today, they have exhausted all their options and are unable to provide even one meal a day for the children.

Dinithi longs for a time when she will be able to put her children to sleep without the fear of insects and reptiles crawling into their little shelter. She yearns to give Oshani and Oveesha every opportunity she was not fortunate enough to receive growing up, especially a sound education. Without a safe place to call home, a safe place to study and play or adequate sanitation facilities, Dinithi is uncertain about her children’s future. Dushantha and Dinithi will stop at nothing to provide little Oshani who dreams of becoming a doctor one day, the ladder she deserves to a brighter future.

Fighting to Survive

Fighting to Survive

Shantha (42) and Niluka (35), were high school sweethearts, who have now been married for 18 years. As youth they dreamed of beginning a happy life together and starting a family of their own, in a home of their own. They never imagined that life would take them along an unchartered course of hardships.

Today, Shantha and Neluka live in a one-room wooden shack with their two teenage daughters, in Kadirana, Negombo. Their current home which is only 180 sq.ft (16 sq. meters), is built with wooden planks that have now begun to decay over time, due to dampness and heat. The broken mud floors and the wasted tin sheets overhead provide this little family limited protection from adverse weather conditions and diseases. They barely have enough space for all four of them to live in this house and all four of them have no alternative but to share a single bed due to the inadequate space in the house.

Shantha, is a daily wage labourer who works as a mason whenever he is able to secure work. He is the sole breadwinner and works hard to ensure that his wife and daughters are able to have at least one proper meal a day. The Covid19 lockdown has only made Shantha’s economic hardships worse. With Gampaha being identified as a High-Risk area, Shantha is one of the thousands of daily wage earners who are unable to provide for their families due to the indefinite curfew that has been imposed.

“I have tried for so many years to build a safe home for my two daughters and my wife. Being a mason and not being able to complete this house for my family has always been something that has worried me. Waking up each day and seeing what could have been our house, is a daily reminder of how I have failed them. My dream is to build a home where my girls will have a room of their own to study in peace.”

Shantha Jude Perera

Katana, Gampaha District

Shantha tells us about Nethmi Inesha (15), his older daughter who is preparing to read for her Ordinary Level Examination next year and the younger daughter Nethmi Bhagya (5) who entered Grade 1 this year. Their current living conditions do not provide adequate space for the two girls to engage in their studies in a peaceful environment. They do not have electricity and have to study with the aid of kerosene lamps. Amidst the Covid19 pandemic and curfews being put in place in Katana Region, Shantha and his family have faced even more dire conditions, as they have been confined to their tiny home with inadequate space and facilities.

They do not own a toilet of their own, and are compelled to share their neighbour’s toilet. The girls have very little privacy and Shantha constantly worries for their safety. His worries are made worse, by the fact that they live in a neighbourhood rife with reports of sexual abuse of young girls. The fact that financial constraints have kept him from building his family a secure home with a lockable door, keeping his family safe from intruders, weighs heavily on his heart.

Over the years, with great difficulty, Shantha managed to save a little money in hopes to building a more stable home for his family. Being a mason, he was able to work on the construction himself, and he began working on what would be their new home more than two years ago. However, Shantha was forced to use his savings to provide for his children’s school needs and to sustain their family when he was out of work. Today, the incomplete structure beside their home is a daily reminder to Shantha and Niluka that they have not been able to provide their daughter’s a safe place to call home. The fact that financial constraints have kept him from building his family a secure home with a lockable door, keeping his family safe from intruders weighs heavily on his heart.

 

They do not own a toilet of their own, and are compelled to share their neighbour’s toilet. The girls have very little privacy and Shantha constantly worries for their safety. His worries are made worse, by the fact that they live in a neighbourhood rife with reports of sexual abuse of young girls.

Over the years, with great difficulty, Shantha managed to save a little money in hopes to building a more stable home for his family. Being a mason, he was able to work on the construction himself, and he began working on what would be their new home more than two years ago. However, Shantha was forced to use his savings to provide for his children’s school needs and to sustain their family when he was out of work. Today, the incomplete structure beside their home is a daily reminder to Shantha and Neluka that they have not been able to provide their daughter’s a safe place to call home.

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Searching for a New Chapter

Searching for a New Chapter

Kishan (33), is the first born of Christopher and Padmawathi (60) living in Kadirana, Katana. Kishan started showing signs of weakening mental stability and cognitive development when he was just 07 years old. His family believes that he lost his ability to speak after a traumatic experience when children in the neighborhood scared him with firecrackers, while he was playing alone.

Christopher, the owner of a flourishing delivery business at the time and proprietor of multiple lands and a vehicle of their own sold off all of their assets in the hopes of providing Kishan with the best medical attention possible to help him return to normalcy, to no avail.

Their two daughters – Praveena (24) and Praboda (22), despite their challenging circumstances, pushed boundaries to elevate their lives by creating opportunities for themselves. Praveena who is passionate about being an educator has recently completed a Diploma in Teaching and is currently waiting a teaching appointment in 2020. Praboda, is an aspiring artist who in her final year of a degree program in Art at a private university.

The family of 06 lives together in a two roomed structure that is barely enough to accommodate them all. In this congested space they not only feel uninspired and stagnant but with the years passed by the walls of the house too have weakened and their roof also has many issues. Above all now their little house is scattered with paints, paintings, carving tools and clay models as Praboda is currently preparing for her final Art exhibition.

Christopher is in a constant struggle working daily to earn enough to afford medical care for Krishan, to be able to afford paint and art supplies for Proboda by selling betel leaves as a means of finding an income to support his family in order to provide his children with their necessities, well-being and growth.

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It has always been my dream to provide a stable home for my children. A home is not just a house with four walls, it is so much more. My dream is to someday be able to provide Kishan with the stability he deserves and a chance to begin a new chapter in our lives.

Christopher Rathnasekara

Katana, Gampaha District