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”.

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!