A House of Dreams : The Story of Habitat Sri Lanka’s First Homeowner

A House of Dreams : The Story of Habitat Sri Lanka’s First Homeowner

Selwyn, a police officer in Hatton, and his wife Jegajothy lived with their 3 young children in the quarters the police provided for them. Closing in on his retirement age, paramount on Selwyn’s mind, was ensuring that his wife and children had a secure and stable home to call their own. Investing in building a house was an impossible dream, his pay being just adequate to provide for the day to day living expenses of a young family. Ensuring that he provided for his children’s education was critical to Selwyn. How could he provide for their needs today as well as build a secure future for them tomorrow?  It was whilst this committed civil servant was mulling his options that he came to know about Habitat for Humanity, which was rooted in the deep conviction that every family deserved a safe and secure place to live. Inspired by the hope that reading about this organization gave him, Selwyn, a man of initiative, wrote to Habitat Sri Lanka, stating his need. Thus, 25 years ago, Selwyn became the very first homeowner to work in partnership with Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka, to build for his beloved wife and children the house of their dreams.

Over 20 years later we visit Jegajothy in the house that Selwyn built for her. Dressed in a bright pink cotton dress, complementing perfectly the cheery pink house, this diminutive lady of 68 sits and reminisces of how Selwyn built this Habitat house with his own hands. It is now 13 years since he passed on. Her three children are all grown up and working in Colombo in established companies and Jegajothy looks forward to their weekend visits. In their absence she finds great pleasure in pottering around the beautiful garden that she and Selwyn planted together.

The house Selwyn built for her is perched atop a hillock that overlooks a tea plantation. Strengthened by the knowledge that with the support of Habitat owning his own home was no longer a distant dream, Selwyn saved up to purchase this picturesque block of land. The innovative alternative technology introduced by Habitat which used the very soil of the property that was dug out to build the foundation to make earth compressed blocks helped Selwyn mitigate the expenses. How Selwyn himself, with his own hands, made the bricks for their house is still fresh in Jegajothy’s mind. The joy of moving into their new home, the memories of her children having ample space to study and play, how within two years of moving in they were able to also add an extension to their home, creating more private space for their two daughters, are for Jegajothy memories of happy and fruitful times.

Selwyn, the guardian of his family, was very moved by his experience of working alongside Habitat as a homeowner. The community instinct that led him to become a Police Officer found at Habitat Sri Lanka a new avenue for public service to his beloved Hatton community.  When two years after moving into their home he retired from the police, Selwyn lost no time in signing up as Construction Supervisor with Habitat. Building on his own personal Habitat Home Owner experience Selwyn helped other families to build their own house of dreams. Today those families that benefitted from Selwyn’s commitment to help his community through Habitat, to have access to safe and secure homes of their own, remember the personal interest he took in their progress. He taught and helped them to build their own bricks, supervising in detail the safety and security of their homes.  The strong, solid homes that have weathered the pass of time are very much his legacy as they are Habitat’s. Inspired by the spirit of Habitat for Humanity, Selwyn has left behind, not only a house of dreams for his beloved Jegajothy, and a solid future for his three children, but a strong and secure community that is forever knit together by the experience of helping each other build brick by brick, the house of ones dreams.

A foundation of Hope

A foundation of Hope

Palitha and Kanthimalika, lived with their daughter and her family in a shelter made of wooden planks and metal sheets. Their daughter worked in a local grocery store, her husband earning a daily wage through rickshaw hires. The latter which was rented consumed most of his earnings leaving him with the bare minimum with which to support his family. Cramped in a limited space that afforded neither safety nor adequate shelter, this family of five survived as best they could. In November 2017 when Cyclone Ockhi ravaged the South of Sri Lanka, this family barely made it out alive when the strong winds blew away their home. All their belongings, including their little grand-daughter Savisha Muthuhansi’s school books were swept away, along with any hopes of building a better future for themselves. Kalutara, where Palitha and Kanthimalika lived was the worst hit area, where over 55,000 people were affected.  Left with only the clothes on their backs, Palitha and Kanthimalika, bereft of anything to call their own, but their precious family, found new hope when they became the proud owners of their own Habitat Home.

“We never dreamed that a house like this could be our own” says Kanthimalika, as with tears in her eyes she looks about the home that she has furnished with pride. Bright pink walls, gaily coloured curtains, an alter where the oil lamp burns relentlessly, potted plants breathing new life,  it is a home filled with the warmth of hope and thanksgiving.

The family’s dreams are now for the bright future that young Savisha has before her. Delighted with the ample and safe play area she has to call her own, Savisha, enclosed in the warm embrace of her grandmothers arms, with a bright sparkle in her eye, confidently declares ” when I grow up I want to have a job – I want to be a teacher”. With big smiles and eyes tender with love, Palitha and Kanthimalika, look on with pride, assured that with the new home they invested in with their labour and meagre savings, they have helped their daughter build a solid foundation of hope for their beloved Savisha.

 

Paving new avenues

Paving new avenues

Paving new avenues

 

Like most families during the war, Yohamalar and her family were compelled to seek shelter in refugee camps. After the war ended in 2009 her family built a temporary shelter for themselves, but it lacks security and it is a constricted space. Yohamalar has overcome many challenges while supporting her family, and cares for her teenage son who has special needs while continuously trying to create a safe and warm environment for him to grow up in. The 50 year old mother explains how proud she is of her elder daughter who is currently doing a course on Nursing, and will be the first female in her whole family to start earning her own income. Yohamalar expressed how hopeful and thrilled she is with the construction of their new home.

Yohamalar told us that her joy comes from a place that truly believes this new home will be a driving force in their life as a family, and will “improve the quality of life” for her children and “help them study better and have a better chance and creating a good life for themselves.”

Home is where the heart is

Home is where the heart is

Home is where the heart is

Nilani, a mother of two, tells her story of how Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka changed her family’s life. Prior to being a beneficiary in 2012, Nilani and her family never had a permanent home. They faced many challenges as a result of not having a safe or adequate place to live in together; Nilani recalls how her family had to live separately as a result. Her children lived with her sister, while Nilani and her husband moved from one place to another. They rarely got to see each other since they didn’t live in the same space. To them, their Habitat home is more than a house.  It is a place to call their own, where they can live together as one family. During the construction of their home back in 2012, it was Nilani who took the lead in preparing tea for Volunteers during their Habitat builds. She felt that it was the least she could do in appreciation of the people who were giving her family an opportunity to be under one roof together.

Nilani shares the simple joys she now has the opportunity to have; being with her children every day while cooking them healthy meals and chatting with them about their day after they come home from work. Their family is now together and complete; under the strong roof of their home. Inspired by the new hope in their lives, her daughter (22 years) and her son (26 years) are working hard and saving up to expand their home.

Changemaker

Changemaker

Changemaker

Premalatha works in the plantations of Hellbodde Estate and is a part of the committee formed by the homeowners of the Indian Housing Project. She is a resilient single mother of two. Her daughter is happily married and lives close by to her new home with her own family. Premalatha lives in her new Habitat home with her son; who works in the town as a mason. A great source of strength to her, he has always supported her in life since he was young.

Reflecting on how her life has changed after being a beneficiary of the Indian Housing Project; Premalatha says “I had to go through so many struggles with my abusive husband years ago; I had no choice but to keep moving forward and be strong for my children… I always dreamed of being able to live comfortably in a home that was my own”.

A strong advocate of female empowerment in her community she works hard to be a source of support and friendship to her neighbors. Premalatha also facilitates language classes (Sinhalese and Tamil) for the youth in her community; in hopes that they will be better equipped in the world to find good employment.

Premalatha is very happy with the opportunity that the Indian Housing Project has given her to become a homeowner. She says; “This is a decade long dream that is finally coming true. I have no words to thank Habitat for Humanity for making my dreams become a reality”.

 

Re-building hope

Re-building hope

Re-building hope

Chandani cannot wipe the smile off of her face as she speaks about her new home. She lives with her daughter, Dinushika, and also takes care for her infirmed mother. Chandani and her family suffered severely with the landslide disaster that struck in May of 2016. They felt extremely fortunate when they learnt that they were receiving a new home through Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka.

“We never imagined that we would be able to rebuild our lives after we lost our home in the landslides last year. We are so grateful to Habitat for Humanity for their support and feel so blessed that my family finally has a safe and permanent place to call home”.