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Habitat Volunteers Build Homes in Tsunami-Affected Sri Lanka

March 15, 2005

By Mikel Flamm

HIKKADUWA, Sri Lanka: 15 March, 2005
Eleven Dutch volunteers joined a team from the United States this week to build five houses for tsunami-affected families in Hikkaduwa, a small Sri Lankan community 300 meters from the sea. Both groups are part of Habitat for Humanity’s First Builder program, which sends skilled volunteers to assist in rebuilding after a disaster.

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American Ron Barry and Rosita Meikle of Canada unload a truck filled with bricks for new Habitat homes.

 

The two groups followed on the heels of the First Builder team from Singapore; the first such team to rebuild in tsunami-affected Asia following the tsunami.

All three teams worked side by side with homeowners – laying bricks, mixing cement and digging foundations in the small Sri Lankan town of Hikkadua, just 50 miles south of the capital Columbo. Hikkaduwa was hard hit by December’s tsunami. Thousands of people lost their lives, including 1,300 passengers on a train that was swept off its tracks.

“The community support from the villagers was very helpful and supportive,” said Habitat for Humanity Singapore’s national coordinator, Hosea Lai. “We really did not know what to expect when we arrived, but the families and even the kids pitched in and helped, so they inspired the group.”

Each new home built by the teams will measure 250 sq. ft., with two rooms, an open verandah and a latrine. At a later date, the homeowners can expand the house under Habitat for Humanity’s “Save & Build” program or on their own.

The teams included experienced volunteers, several of whom had worked with Habitat on past builds and some with experience working in disaster response situations.

Trucks and tractors operate throughout the day moving cement and other materials. Despite delays in delivery, the teams worked non-stop for two days. The goal for each team is to complete three to five houses before they depart.

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Homeowner D.M. Tharaninge stands with her family before the construction site for their new house.

 “If you have the opportunity to take part in this project and you are willing to accept the challenges, then I would say do it,” said U.S. volunteer Rod Barry. “The most important thing is to be prepared. It is a totally different situation here, but you learn to improvise when you need to.”

Barry worked side-by-side with the oldest son of homeowner D.M. Tharaninge applying mortar to bricks for the new home, while D.M. and her husband carried bricks and cement.

“I am very happy to see the Dutch and the Americans come here to help my family,” said Tharaninge. “Our former house was completely destroyed by the tsunami, and we have been living in a nearby temple and a tent for the past month. We were chosen to be a Habitat home owner just three weeks ago.

“We are very happy to be able to have the opportunity to have this house. It makes me very happy for our family and very special to see so many foreign volunteers come here to help us. I am very touched.”

Current estimates indicate more than 38,195 people were killed in Sri Lanka, with more than 6,000 missing, and 15,000 injured. More than 97,000 families have been displaced, 83,000 houses were completely destroyed and 40,000 houses partially destroyed. Over one million people were left homeless.

Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka plans to build at least 10,000 houses in the tsunami-hit areas. Fourteen districts of the coastal belt were severely affected including those in which HFH Sri Lanka operates: Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Ampara, Hambantota, Matara, Galle, Kalutara and Columbo.