Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka launches ‘Brick by Brick Campaign’ to build homes for low-income families affected by COVID19

Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka launches ‘Brick by Brick Campaign’ to build homes for low-income families affected by COVID19

Habitat Sri Lanka marks National Housing Week by raising awareness on the need for affordable and adequate housing solutions for families affected by Covid-19.

The importance of a safe and decent place to call home has never been more pronounced than during the Covid-19 global health crisis. Across every sphere, from health to the economy, security to social protection, the impacts of Covid-19 have been felt hardest by low-income families, particularly daily-wage workers. The lack of safe housing, access to clean water and adequate sanitation facilities appears to be front and centre of the conversation with regards to equipping families to face the crisis. This National Housing Week, Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka highlights the need for affordable and adequate housing solutions for low-income families affected by the Covid-19 crisis in Sri Lanka.

Every day, more and more families find themselves in a struggle to keep a decent roof over their heads. Caught in punishing cycles of unpredictable rent increases, overcrowded conditions, or lack of access to land and affordable financing options, these families live with a constant burden of uncertainty, stress and fear. As revealed in the Housing Needs Assessment Survey of 2016, out of the 6 million families living in Sri Lanka, only 5.2 million families have some form of shelter. This alarming statistic highlights the fact that more than 800,000 families in Sri Lanka are currently in need of a safe and decent place to call home.

For low-income families who live in extremely poor conditions, living in homes that are already too small and overcrowded, social distancing and self-isolation directives seem impractical. Maintaining social distance is nearly impossible for low-income families who live in overcrowded spaces, because the only way they can afford rent or save money is for extended family to stay together. While handwashing is a crucial preventative measure to stop the spread of the virus, many low-income families do not have easy access to clean water or adequate sanitation facilities. Thus, now more than ever, families need the security and stability of a decent home that they can afford.

Since 1994, Habitat for Humanity has helped more than 27,000 families secure safe, affordable, and decent housing, build community, and forge a path toward greater stability. Now, in these challenging times, Habitat is confronting the national housing need through its first-of-its-kind ‘Brick by Brick Campaign’.


The Brick by Brick Campaign aims to raise awareness and support of Habitat’s work in order to help low-income families build a safe and secure place to call home in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Through this campaign, Habitat seeks to build homes for 100 low-income families affected by the pandemic.

Commenting on Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka’s new fundraising campaign, Yu Hwa Li, National Director of Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka said, “Funds raised through the Brick by Brick Campaign will allow us to support some of the most vulnerable low-income families affected by the pandemic. At Habitat we know that a safe, decent, affordable home is critical to a family forging a path out of poverty. When families have access to stable, quality affordable housing, they can become part of a diverse community, find and keep jobs, lead healthier lives and take better care of their children. At Habitat, we know that a ‘home’ is much more than just having a roof over one’s head, it is the hope and the possibility of a better life.”

Join the Brick by Brick Campaign by visiting  habitatsrilanka.org/campaigns/brick-by-brick/  

Donate towards this worthy cause and share your support by using #BrickByBrick on social media.

Covid-19 Statement by Jonathan Reckford, Habitat CEO

Covid-19 Statement by Jonathan Reckford, Habitat CEO

ATLANTA (March 23, 2020) — Habitat for Humanity International CEO Jonathan Reckford issued the following statement regarding the economic ripple effects of COVID-19:

With each passing day, we all find ourselves trying to adapt to the measures required to combat the spread of COVID-19. In countries and cultures all around the world, “stay at home” is the message of the moment. “Shelter in place.”

It’s the right thing to do, and if we are all able to flatten the curve, we know that we will have, together, saved countless lives.

But all of us at Habitat for Humanity also know that there are far too many families for whom this isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. The uncertainty so many of us feel today, these families have felt for a lifetime — if not generations.

Where for many “shelter in place” means figuring out logistics and adjusting mindsets, for others it only exacerbates the conditions with which they have struggled for so long. Houses already not healthy because of leaks or mold. Homes already overcrowded because the only way to afford rent or save up money is for extended family to stay together in a too-small space. Homes without easy access to a constant water supply. Spaces that shelter, but only just.

Where for many “stock up on what you need” means a frustrating, jarring trip through the inconveniently (and temporarily) hit-or-miss-stocked shelves of a local market, for others it’s a reminder of how close to the financial edge they already live. Imagine that, for these families, shopping for supplies always feels this way — not because of the crowds around them hurrying to acquire whatever they can, but because they have to make terrible choices every day. In order to make sure the rent can be paid, which would you choose? Filling a basket with healthy groceries. Filling a necessary prescription. Filling the tank of your car with the fuel that allows you to do either.

When these are the choices you face, you can’t win. As the economic shocks from this crisis ripple out, these same families will be hardest hit. They always are. For far too many, as businesses have closed and hourly workers have lost their jobs, it has already begun.

These are the families with whom we partner. They are going to need our hand up now more than ever. And now more than ever, our work — much like flattening the curve — will require all of us, together. You can help us help these families, these communities, our neighbors build back. Stronger, in solidarity and with your support.

About Habitat for Humanity

Driven by the vision that everyone needs a decent place to live, Habitat for Humanity began in 1976 as a grassroots effort on a community farm in southern Georgia. The Christian housing organization has since grown to become a leading global nonprofit working in local communities across all 50 states in the U.S., and in more than 70 countries. Families and individuals in need of a hand up partner with Habitat for Humanity to build or improve a place they can call home. Habitat homeowners help build their own homes alongside volunteers and pay an affordable mortgage. Through financial support, volunteering or adding a voice to support affordable housing, everyone can help families achieve the strength, stability and self-reliance they need to build better lives for themselves. Through shelter, we empower. To learn more, visit habitat.org.



We Build Colombo Together

We Build Colombo Together

“We Build Colombo Together (WBCT): Collective Impact as a Path to Inclusive Development”, an event jointly organized by the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) and Search for Common Ground (SFGC) was held on 16th January 2020. Bringing together State, Market and Community to improve urban wellbeing in Colombo, a community leader ID Card system and an Urban Development Program aimed at re-organizing the Community Development Council (CDC) network in Colombo were launched on the day. Mr. Yu Hwa Li, National Director of Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka participated in a panel discussion, speaking on the importance of multi-sector partnerships in enhancing inclusivity and reducing exclusivity.

When strength and self-reliance meet

When strength and self-reliance meet

Families in the European Union-funded “Homes not Houses” project in Sri Lanka can choose to build safe, comfortable homes with appropriate construction materials.

While earth has been used as a building material since ancient times, people often confuse the word ‘earth’ with top soil on which plants grow. They may also think that building with earth is similar to adobe construction that uses mud.

However, the European Union-funded “Homes not Houses” project in Sri Lanka is tapping into earth materials that are non-organic substrate and not mud or top soil as well as appropriate construction technology for a long-term impact.

When completed, the multi-year project will enable 2,385 Sri Lankan families who have been affected by the decades-long conflict to build or repair their homes. Self-sufficiency is also encouraged through the use and production of locally sourced earth blocks and construction materials and other appropriate construction technologies.

Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka is providing its technical expertise in implementing the project in 31 divisions across the eastern district of Batticaloa and the northern districts of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu.

Habitat’s partner organization World Vision Lanka provides flanking measures such as  livelihood support for families and communities including vocational training in construction. World Vision’s role also involves training local community members in the use of appropriate building materials and methods, disaster risk reduction and financial literacy as well as forming and strengthening small and medium-sized enterprises.

Since the project’s launch in January 2016, a total of 1,258 families have built or repaired their homes while the remaining 1,127 houses are in various stages of construction as of June 30, 2019.

Under a homeowner-driven approach, families can choose from three house designs, each for a  house measuring 51 square meters (550 square feet) in size. The designs allow the families to expand their homes in the future when they have available funds. The families have the choice of building their homes with appropriate construction materials such as compressed stabilized earth blocks, known as CSEBs, or with traditional materials like fired bricks and cement sand blocks.

Thillainathan (far right) and Ushathevi (center) with their children (from left) Dinesh, Shanmugasivam and Aishwarya in front of their Habitat house after it was completed in August 2017. Photo: Habitat for Humanity/Jim Kendall.

Ushathevi (center) and her husband Thillainathan (far right) with their children outside their home in Batticaloa, the first to be built with compressed stabilized earth blocks under the “Homes not Houses” project. All photos: Habitat for Humanity International/Jim Kendall and Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka.

The project also promotes the use of other appropriate construction technologies that have a lower environmental impact, are more resource-efficient, or perform better in the local climate than traditional technologies. The use of appropriate materials and technologies not only reduces harmful emissions and waste but also boosts the local economy. More livelihood opportunities can be made available to local community members including future Habitat homeowners who are trained in the technologies and production of associated building materials.

In addition, the cultural practices and aspirations of the local communities are taken into account. It is expected that around 40 percent of the homes in the “Homes not Houses” project will be built using appropriate technologies and materials.

A feasibility study published by the European Union has cited CSEBs as a low-carbon, low embodied energy solution for sustainable development. Other researchers (Riza et al, 2011[1]) have listed the following advantages of using CSEBs:

  •  it increases the utilization of local material and reduces the transportation cost as the production is in situ, making quality housing available to more people, and boosting the local economy rather than spending for imported materials;
  •  good strength, insulation and thermal properties;
  •  less carbon emission and embodied energy in the production phase;
  •  resultant low levels of waste can easily be disposed of with no direct environmental pollution during the life cycle; and
  •  earth-based blocks also have the ability to absorb atmospheric moisture and create a healthy environment inside a building for its occupants.

A yard in Vilavettuvan village, Manmunai West divisional secretariat, Batticaloa district, produces compressed stabilized earth blocks that are used in some of the homes built under the European Union-funded “Homes not Houses” project in Sri Lanka.

Habitat Sri Lanka’s partner organization, World Vision Lanka, manages the yard in the east that produces the CSEBs that are used in the “Homes not Houses” project. The yard is located in Vilavettuvan village, Manmunai West divisional secretariat, Batticaloa district. Another three yards have been set up in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts in the north that are run by local organizations Project for Youth, LEADS and SN Enterprise under the local Rural Development Society.

World Vision Lanka has obtained government permission to extract raw, inorganic earth from a local reservoir. At the yard, the earth is put through a crushing machine to produce the particles, each between 1 and 3 millimeters in size. With one cubic meter of earth, about 400 CSEBs can be cast, according to Nandakumar Amalan, former World Vision Lanka’s project coordinator who oversaw the yard’s operations.

The sand and gravel content for the CSEBs should be more than 65 percent while the silt and clay content should be less than 35 percent and zero organics to achieve the required strength, quality and durability. The ratio of cement by volume is between 5 and 7 percent.

Using a manually operated press, low-skilled workers can produce between 800 and 850 CSEBs a day. There is also an automatic press that yields around 1,700 CSEBs a day. About 4,500 CSEBs are required to build a 51-square-meter home.

A worker at the Batticaloa yard using a penetrenometer to check the quality of a freshly produced compressed stabilized earth block.

After being cast, the CSEBs are covered with plastic sheets and kept in the shade for two days by which time the blocks will have gained about 75 percent of their strength. Then the blocks are moved outdoor where they are covered in burlap and cured with water about three times a day for the remaining 28 days.

Saunthalathevy started working in the CSEB yard in April 2017 after 10 days of training. She has begun laying the foundation for her new home that would be built with CSEBs. “During the training, I was very happy. The blocks looked very nice and they had good strength,” says Saunthalathevy. During the training, she observed that the blocks are stronger than local cement blocks. “My wish is that job opportunities will increase in this village as there are so many people without jobs.

P. Suresh (second from left), then Secretary of Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Prison Reform, Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs, and G. Suthahar (third from left), Senior Development Assistant, Batticaloa District Secretariat, witnessed the strength of compressed stabilized earth blocks at the Batticaloa yard in October 2018. Together with the staff of Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka and World Vision Lanka, they saw how a block could withstand the weight of about 40 CSEBs, equivalent to 300 k.g., before breaking. Photo: World Vision Lanka.

The strengths of CSEBs are also recognized by local government leaders and the local masons who are involved in the “Homes not Houses” project. “Compressed stabilized earth blocks reduce environmental pollution and are good for the environment. As the preferred earth is available in this area, local resources are being used,” says S. Gopalakrishnan, former ‘grama niladari’ or village officer, Karaveddy, Vavunatheevu divisional secretariat. He shared his observation after visiting a model house built with CSEBs in Batticaloa district. “The house is very cool inside.”

Local mason Supramaniam Puthalvan has built 18 homes including his own home with CSEBs. He likes the regular size and shape of CSEBs for the ease of building walls compared to local fired bricks. Fellow mason Karunan Ramraj remarks: “With compressed stabilized earth blocks, they look nice even without plastering. The work is very neat.”

To date, Habitat and World Vision have trained more than 400 local masons and workers using appropriate construction technology and materials.

In the north of Sri Lanka, a few homes have been built with earth concrete blocks. ECBs are made with a mix of earth and cement with the ratio of the cement varying between 5 and 8 percent depending on the type and the size of gravel particles. The ECBs are noted for being strong and can be used in place of conventional fired bricks. Yogeswary who has built her home with ECBs is impressed with the blocks’ strength as well as thermal comfort.

With a 14-million-euro (US$15.6 million) grant from the European Union, Habitat Sri Lanka is also promoting innovative appropriate construction technologies in the “Homes not Houses”

project. The “fair faced” masonry technique uses uniformly cast blocks with pointed mortar joints. To achieve uniform thickness of the horizontal and vertical mortar joints in between blocks, a locally made mortar-laying guide tool is used.

During a training session, a local mason demonstrated the ‘fair faced’ technique by laying mortar with the use of a local tool.

The “fair faced” technique is an eco-friendly and more cost-effective alternative to the regular process of plastering walls because less sand, cement and skilled labor are used. The resultant wall is strong due to the proper bond pattern and vertical alignment. Walls that are built using the “fair faced” technique are aesthetically pleasing with little or no plastering.

The “Homes not Houses” project also features other appropriate technologies such as filler slab, Baker bond and ferrocement. Filler slabs and ferrocement slabs are used in some of the homes in the north of Sri Lanka such as that of Yogeswary.

Filler slabs are supported, low-cost concrete slabs that are used in ceilings or kitchen countertops for short spans up to 3.6 meters. Concrete in the tension area of the slab cross section is replaced with a much cheaper filler material that is durable but less dense. Discarded roofing tiles and clay pots can be recycled as filler materials that save costs and provide thermal comfort. As the filler slab weighs less than a concrete slab, it reduces the need for steel reinforcement. The filler material is arranged in such a way that the filler slab looks aesthetically pleasing.

Habitat homeowner Yogeswary’s home features the use of ferrocement counters and shelves in her kitchen (left) and a filler slab ceiling (right).

Ferrocement precast slabs or panels are lightweight, relatively cost-effective structures that are  often used for elements not requiring high strength such as a kitchen countertop, a non-load bearing wall or roof. Cement and sand are mixed to produce a rich mortar mixture that is reinforced with layers of chicken wire. A ferrocement slab should have a thickness of at least 2.5 centimeters and, if not supported on all sides, it should have beams with a reinforcement bar built into the sides that are not supported.

Baker bond, developed by British-born Indian architect Laurie Baker, is a type of masonry bond in which the bricks are laid on edge such that the shiner and rowlock are visible on the face of the wall. The thickness of the wall is maintained at the width of two bricks. This gives the wall an internal cavity bridged by a rowlock. Thus, the use of materials such as bricks and mortar can be significantly reduced. The pocket of air between the inner and outer faces of the wall helps to maintain thermal comfort inside the building.

In addition, the use of the Baker Bond technique allows the supply of utilities such as water and electricity to be placed inside the wall cavity rather than cutting into the wall later or affixing utilities on the outside of the wall. This makes the finished wall more aesthetically pleasing.

Walls that are built with the Baker bond technique.

Other appropriate practices include precast door and window frames that are of a higher quality than similarly priced but lower grade timber favored by some families. For the floor concrete, coarse aggregate can be substituted with hard, durable building debris by up to 50 percent. Masons can then trowel a smooth top finish for the floor.

At the official ground breaking ceremony in February 2017, Tung-Laï Margue, the ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives for the delegation of the European Union, expressed his hope that returnee families gain not only homes and livelihoods but also the necessary support to rebuild their lives and create a better future.

Through the promotion and use of appropriate construction materials and technologies, Habitat Sri Lanka and World Vision Lanka are enabling conflict-affected families to have the strength to stand on their own and build lasting self-reliance.

This article is written by Habitat for Humanity’s staff in the Asia-Pacific area office with inputs from the technical team of Habitat Sri Lanka.

Otara Gunewardene appointed as Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka Goodwill Ambassador

Otara Gunewardene appointed as Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka Goodwill Ambassador

Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka, an international non-profit organization dedicated towards providing every family in Sri Lanka with a stable and safe place to call home, appointed entrepreneur, philanthropist and advocate Otara Gunewardene, as its Goodwill Ambassador in celebration of its 25th Anniversary.

Otara Gunewardene, the Founder and CEO of Embark and the Otara Foundation, has been a long-standing supporter of the work of Habitat for Humanity. She first joined hands with Habitat for Humanity in the aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami, volunteering and supporting Habitat’s Post-Tsunami Rebuilding efforts in the Southern Province.

Since her first partnership with Habitat Sri Lanka in 2005, Ms. Gunewardene has played a pivotal role in rallying the support of donors and volunteers alike to raise funds for Habitat Sri Lanka’s work across the country. Following her experience in working directly with Habitat Sri Lanka to rebuild after the Tsunami, Ms. Gunewardene was inspired to sponsor the construction of 13 homes for flood-prone families in the Kalutara District. In celebration of World Habitat Day in 2015, Ms. Gunewardene championed Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka’s ‘Corporate Build’ volunteer event, which provided employees of corporates an opportunity to volunteer their time and effort towards engaging in a tree planting campaign and constructing permanent homes for families in need in Kalutara.

Speaking at the announcement ceremony held in Colombo, Ms. Gunewardene said, “I look forward to supporting the good work done by Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka in bringing tangible changes to people’s lives, which is what I have always wanted to do. I always look at engaging in work that benefits the people, the animals and the environment; and Habitat for Humanity’s commitment towards creating ‘Habitats’ for people in need, is a vision I have always felt strongly about.”

Mr. Yu Hwa Li, National Director of Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka, commenting on the appointment of the Goodwill Ambassador said, “We’re delighted to welcome Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka’s Goodwill Ambassador, Otara Gunewardene. She is a successful entrepreneur, trendsetter, fashion icon, philanthropist, advocate and a mother who understands that ‘home’ is the key to a brighter future. She has been a longstanding supporter and volunteer of Habitat for Humanity and we’re very excited to welcome her on board as she continues to support us in realizing the global vision and mission of Habitat; creating a world where everyone has a decent place to live.”

For 25 years Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka has been committed to the mission of bringing people together to build homes, communities and hope. Having empowered more than 26,000 families across Sri Lanka to break the cycle of poverty and helping them to achieve strength, stability and self-reliance; Habitat Sri Lanka looks forward to reaching even more impoverished, marginalized and vulnerable communities in the future.

The International Model United Nations – Youth Build 2019

The International Model United Nations – Youth Build 2019

On Saturday, 14th September 2019, over 100 youth delegates of The International Model United Nations (TIMUN) volunteered with Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka to paint the homes of visually impaired persons in Nayanalokagama, Negombo. This special event titled ‘TIMUN Youth Build’ was held in conjunction with The International Model United Nations (TIMUN) Conference attended by over 160 international and local students, held from the 12-15th September at the Hilton Colombo Residencies.

Special Guest of Honour, South African High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Her Excellency Robina P.Marks also graced the occasion and volunteered her time painting homes together with the youth and became acquainted with the visually impaired beneficiaries. Highlighting the importance of youth engagement towards building a more sustainable world, she urged the youth to ‘think Global but to act Local’, thereby encouraging the TIMUN delegates to go beyond drafting resolutions and to become agents of change in their communities.

Official event partner JAT Holdings (Pvt) Ltd. generously donated 100 liters of Permoglaze Weathershield Emulsion paints and paint brushes, enabling the TIMUN youth delegates from Ladies’ College, Lyceum International School, Asian Grammar School and Ilma International School to spend a day painting the homes of ten visually impaired persons who had recently received homes through Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka’s ‘Homes for Hope’ Project.

The TIMUN Youth Build was the first ‘Activity Day’ of its kind, held mid-way during a Model-UN conference, which provided delegates with an unique opportunity to step away from conference deliberations and to put into practice their learnings and engage in sustainable development at the community level. 

Speaking at the event, Mr. Yu Hwa Li, National Director – Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka commented, “Habitat Sri Lanka is proud to be celebrating its 25th Anniversary in 2019. Throughout the last two decades, Habitat has been committed to fostering volunteerism in Sri Lanka. Unlike any other volunteer experience, Habitat’s volunteers get hands-on construction experience building a home with their teammates and also have the satisfaction of knowing that their generosity and hard work resulted in a family in need being blessed with a place to call home. We invite all youth to come join us in our mission towards building a Sri Lanka where every family will have a decent place to call home”.