An airport expansion took the Sivanayagam family’s home. It forced them into a thatch-roof hut without proper sanitation facilities, water or electricity.
The Sivanayagams made the best of a difficult situation, clinging to the hope that their housing and lives would improve.
Meanwhile, Thiyaharajah Sivanayagam, born in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka, fished his native shores, earning a living for his wife and four children, three girls and a boy, ranging in age from 8 to 18.
Extreme lack of space made life difficult at best. The children struggled to study amid inadequate conditions. Then the Sivanayagams learned about Habitat for Humanity.
Habitat visited their village, and Mr. Sivanayagam heard representatives speak of a program called Save and Build, in which groups of families collectively save the equivalent of pennies a day, then build one another’s houses until, at the end of a two-year period, all families have built, bought and moved into decent shelter.
Mr. Sivanayagam says it all seemed too good to be true, but after some initial skepticism, his family joined the second Save and Build group — and discovered exactly how real the dream could become. In six months time, they moved into their house and became Habitat for Humanity homeowners.
Today, having contributed hundreds of “sweat-equity” hours making cement blocks, the Sivanayagams are secure in their house, for which they pay a little more than US$5 per month.
Homeownership, Mr. Sivanayagam says, has significantly improved his family’s community status and lifestyle. More importantly, he says, is that they are homeowners with a sufficient and tidy house, creating wealth through ownership and strengthening their asset with each monthly payment they make.
Today, basic tasks such as studying and washing clothes — once difficult in their former living conditions — are tended to with less stress, more comfort and more confidence. Education is more accessible, says Mr. Sivanayagam, and the family is better sheltered from such forces as fire, flood and cyclone rains. Thanks to adequate sanitation facilities, the Sivanayagams can enjoy better health as well.
They call Habitat for Humanity “a guiding light,” and while the organization was there to help, it was the Savanayagams’ own fortitude — their faith and hope and resolve to create a better way — that moved them from substandard conditions into the security, reassurance and stability of Habitat housing…and homeownership.
Your environment is who you are 
Alverna Walker’s mother passed away when she was 7 years old, forcing her and her siblings to move in with 16 other family members in a small house.