He dreamed of a secure home…
A group of strangers sits together in the Anuradhapura province of Sri Lanka. Two are widows who have foundations for houses, but no means to complete them. Several are living in deteriorating mud huts. Some own land, but cannot construct a dwelling on their own. They are all farmers who grow their own vegetables and fruits; the lucky ones have a few chickens, or perhaps a goat or cow. They earn money by working in the rice paddies of bigger landowners, when there is work to be had. They earn about 150 rupees a day, slightly more than US$1.50. These villagers hope to form a savings group and begin partnering with Habitat for Humanity through one of its house-building models, the “Save and Build” program.
It was Save and Build that allowed Sarath Tikiribandara to complete a simple, decent house for his family. Sarath, his wife and their three children had lived in a mud hut for more than 10 years. He dreamed of a secure home where they could sleep safely and where the children’s schoolbooks would stay dry. He had managed to invest in a foundation for the home and had started making bricks on his own. But as he was working on the bricks one day, Sarath was bitten by a poisonous snake. Weeks in intensive care and months in the hospital put an end to the building for more than four years.
Members of Save and Build groups save 15 to 20 rupees a day. They also collect building materials and make their own bricks. When the group has enough building materials compiled and enough money raised, Habitat for Humanity matches their funds and house building begins. As with all Habitat houses, the families contribute labor, or “sweat equity,” and hired masons do some of the more specialized work. The cycle of saving, collecting, building and loan repayment continues until all members of the group have a house. If they so choose, members of the group can then begin the cycle again and add rooms to their houses.
Local affiliate coordinator Prageeth Jayantha Perera explains the importance of the upcoming dedication of Sarath’s house. He points out a coconut hanging from a bush near the build site. “The group hung it there when they started building,” he says. “When the house is dedicated, they will break it, scrape out the meat and boil it over the fire until it overflows. That’s to celebrate the abundance and prosperity for this family in a new home.”
Sarath recognizes the symbolism in his fresh start and new house, but he is more concerned with the concrete reality. He holds his youngest daughter tightly and admires the blocks and bricks he made that will protect her as she grows up.