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.

 

Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka celebrates the successful handover of 98 homes for plantation workers of Hellbodde Estate, Nuwara Eliya sponsored by the Government of India

Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka celebrates the successful handover of 98 homes for plantation workers of Hellbodde Estate, Nuwara Eliya sponsored by the Government of India

On March 24th 2019, High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka, His Excellency Taranjit Singh Sandhu and Minister of Finance of Sri Lanka Hon. Mangala Samaraweera, ceremoniously handed over 98 homes built under the ‘Indian Housing Project’, to the families of the Hellbodde Estate in Nuwara Eliya. Gracing the festivities were Hon. Palani Thigambaram, Minister for Hill Country New Villages, Infrastructure and Community Development, Hon. Gayantha Karunathilake, Minister of Lands and Parliamentary Reforms, and Hon. Radhakrishnan, Minister of Special Area Development.

The Indian Housing Project, funded by the Government of India and launched under the auspices of the Ministry of Hill Country, New Villages and Infrastructure and Community Development, envisions the resettlement of at least 4,000 plantation worker families in newly created cluster villages or townships in the Central and Uva Provinces. As part of Phase 1 of the Indian Housing Project, Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka has successfully constructed 98 homes for plantation workers of Hellbodde Estate. An additional 267 homes are currently under construction by Habitat for Humanity in 05 other estates across the Central Province.

Speaking at the event, Indian High Commissioner Sandhu described the Indian Housing Project which contains a financial envelope of over US$ 350 million, as the largest single Indian grant assistance project in any country abroad. Minister Mangala Samaraweera, drawing attention to the close relations between India and Sri Lanka, described India as a true friend, always ready to assist Sri Lanka during emergencies and crisis situations. Given this special relationship between the two nations, the 98-house village was officially named ‘Bhagat Singh Puram’, after famous Indian freedom fighter and youth Icon – Bhagat Singh.

Coinciding with the official event, Mr. Yu Hwa Li, National Director of Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka, noted that the close collaboration between the Ministry of Hill Country New Villages, Infrastructure & Community Development, the Plantation Human Development Trust (PHDT), respective Regional Plantation Companies (RPC), Plantation Management, home-owner beneficiaries and the Estate Worker Housing Cooperative Societies (EWHCS) of Hellbodde played an integral role in the successful completion of ‘Bhagat Singh Puram’.

Comprising a minimum of 550 square feet, each new home consists of two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen and a toilet. The ownership of the housing program rests with the Estate Workers’ Housing Cooperative Societies (EWHCS) who with the participation of the home-owner families and local construction service providers are engaged in the construction of the homes. This unique participatory approach encourages homeowners to take ownership of the construction of their own homes, while Habitat for Humanity provides technical assistance, quality assurance & monitoring throughout the construction process, ensuring housing quality standards are met.              

Celebrating 25 years of operations in Sri Lanka, Habitat for Humanity has assisted more than 25,500 families by building homes, facilitating access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation facilities for communities and assisting families to improve their shelter conditions.

Youth Rebuild 2019

Youth Rebuild 2019

Habitat Sri Lanka hosted its 2 part Youth Rebuild 2019 in Nayanalokagama, Negombo as a part of the Habitat Young Leaders Build regional campaign with the generosity and sponsorship of Bloomberg. This initiative focused on the community around the existing Homes4Hope project which includes providing strength, stability and self-reliance to families who have individuals with visual impairment. Youth volunteers from Japan through the Global Village program together with local volunteers joined hands to paint and rejuvenate the livelihood centre of this community on 9th March. Revitalizing this livelihood space will provide the community with more income generation opportunities. As phase 2 of this event, youth GV volunteers got together to paint the neighboring school main hall on 12th March. The hall acts as a multipurpose space for student assemblies and primary classrooms because of limited facilities – and had not been colour-washed for years due to financial constraints. As a part of this event, Habitat Sri Lanka also conducted a WaSH training for over 200 students in that same freshly painted hall; and talked about Hygiene and Cleanliness. Watch this space for a video on our Youth Rebuild!

Habitat Sri Lanka engages youth with Colombo Model United Nations 2019

Habitat Sri Lanka engages youth with Colombo Model United Nations 2019

As part of the regional Habitat Young Leaders Build Campaign, Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka was proud to join hands with the dynamic delegates of the 25th Session of the Colombo Model United Nations from the 1st – 3rd March. Mr. Yu Hwa Li, Habitat Sri Lanka’s National Director, who was invited as the Chief Guest of COMUN 2019, addressed the assembly on ‘Reconstituting Global Perspectives’ and the importance of harnessing the power of youth towards becoming advocates of social change. He further elaborated on the global vision and mission of Habitat for Humanity and the impact of building strength, stability and self-reliance through shelter over the last 25 years in Sri Lanka. Habitat Sri Lanka also hosted a booth during the COMUN sessions enabling the young delegates to learn more about Habitat’s unique youth engagement programs and volunteer opportunities.

Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka launches unique ‘Homes for Hope’ Project.

Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka launches unique ‘Homes for Hope’ Project.

Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka embarked on its 25th year of operations in the country, by breaking ground on its latest housing project titled ‘Homes for Hope’ which seeks to provide housing solutions for nearly 60 marginalized families in Negombo and Galle. Funded by an inspirational local donor family in memory of their loving parents, late Dr. & Mrs. J.H.F. Jayasuriya (Founder Chairman, Ceylon National Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis). This unique housing project which is estimated to be completed at the end of 2019, is unlike any Habitat Sri Lanka has embarked on before, as it concentrates on providing safe and decent housing solutions for persons with disabilities; an often marginalized, vulnerable and overlooked group in our community.

Special consideration has been paid to the needs of the beneficiary communities, especially in determining the design of the homes. Each fully completed Habitat Home will be approximately 580 sq.ft. in extent, complete with two bedrooms, a living room, verandah, kitchen, attached toilet including plastering and painting. Phase 1 of the housing project will be focused in Negombo, where families of persons with disabilities, particularly visually impaired persons will benefit through the construction of new homes and the repair of existing homes in poor conditions. Subsequently, Phase 2 of the initiative will focus on supporting families of persons with disabilities (as a result of illnesses such as Leprosy) and other special needs in Galle.

In celebration of the launch of this unique housing project Habitat Sri Lanka, brought together its National Board of Directors, their friends and family on January 15, 2019 for a special ‘Board Build’. This build enabled more than 60 volunteers to engage in construction activities by excavating and laying foundations for new homes being constructed in Nayanalokagama, Negombo.

More than 40 of these volunteers were Youth between the ages of 16-30 who joined this initiative as part of the Asia-Pacific Regional Campaign ‘Habitat Young Leaders Build’ which focuses on fostering youth volunteerism across the Asia-Pacific Region, by bringing together youth who share the same vision, mission and passion for creating safe and decent housing for families in need across Sri Lanka.