For my children's sake

Through the EU-funded “Homes not Houses” project, Sri Lankan families are building better lives.

Jeyanthini with her son Satheeshan in Sri Lanka

Growing up during Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war, Jeyanthini had to move from one refugee camp to another. The lack of stability took a toll on her education. She had to drop out from school in the eighth grade. “All I wanted was to make sure my children would get a sound education,” said Jeyanthini, 36. Since she has green fingers, she wished to have a big garden and a neat and safe home.

Jeyanthini fulfilled both her dreams by partnering with Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka under the European Union-funded “Homes not Houses” project. She opted to build her house with eco-friendly compressed stabilized earth blocks or CSEBs after learning about the advantages of using such appropriate construction materials.

“We used to suffer in the scorching heat in our temporary shelter but this CSEB home is cool and comfortable. My youngest son sleeps in a hammock during the day without the fan,” she said.

Jeyanthini, with her husband and younger son, showing the coconuts (top) from their farm, and outside their home (bottom left). They used to live in a temporary shelter (bottom right).

Jeyanthini, with her husband and younger son, showing the coconuts (top) from their farm, and outside their home (bottom left). They used to live in a temporary shelter (bottom right). Photos: Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka/Jeevani Fernando.

In addition to building a safe home with a door that can be locked, Jeyanthini’s family received Habitat’s support in installing a water pump to irrigate their three-acre farm. Chillis, peanuts, coconuts and long beans are grown. “We harvest nearly 500 coconuts per week and can easily make about 30,000 Sri Lankan rupees (about US$150) in profit alone. Earlier, we could only depend on my husband’s income as a daily wage earner,” she said.

With enough savings, her family could paint the walls in the pastel colors that Jeyanthini likes. Her older son, Thevipuram, 4, is in primary school and is doing well in math and science. She would wait for him to come home from school in the afternoon while rocking Satheeshan, 1, to sleep. “Ever since we moved into this home in 2018, we have been blessed with good health and good income.”

As of June 14, 2021, a total of 2,370 returnee families have built or repaired their homes with Habitat Sri Lanka in the multi-year “Homes not Houses” project that began in January 2016. In addition, more than 46,000 people benefited from the project’s flanking measures implemented by Habitat’s partner World Vision Lanka. Such measures included disaster risk reduction mapping, establishment of small and medium-sized enterprises, and other capacity development activities. To improve communities’ resilience, culverts and roads were built, and flood water drainage systems were renovated.

Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka, European Union, Homes not Houses project
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For my children's sake
Jeyanthini, with her son Satheeshan, built her home with compressed stabilized earth blocks in Sri Lanka

For my children's sake

Through the EU-funded “Homes not Houses” project, Sri Lankan families are building better lives.

Sri Lanka

Look how far we have come

Through the EU-funded “Homes not Houses” project completed in June 2021, Sri Lankan families like Nalini’s are building better lives.

Nalini in the field amid her herd of cows and goats

For people like Nalini’s family who live off the land, the years of displacement during the decades-long civil war in Sri Lanka were particularly tough. “There were no shops nearby so everything had to be cultivated, grown and home-made. We lost all our assets during the war and my greatest worry was how to secure a good marriage for my daughter,” she said.

During the war-torn years, they had to contend with the demands of the Tamil Tiger rebels. In addition, they had to manage their relationship with the majority Sinhalese community in the North Central Province that bordered their village. The opportunity for change came in 2017 when Nalini and her family were among the first in Sinnawattai village to build homes with compressed stabilized earth blocks. Despite various challenges including access to the remote village, 39 families in Sinnawattai partnered with Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka under the European Union-funded “Homes not Houses” project.

Nalini and her husband Sivaprakasam, both 64, still work in the paddy field and tend their cows and goats. Now they can earn about 15,000-20,000 Sri Lankan rupees (US$75-100) a month, double their income before they built their own home.

From the original pair of goats that Nalini’s family received as part of the project’s livelihood program, the herd has grown to 50. With the support of Habitat, the couple has fulfilled their goal of providing their only daughter Vadivalagi with a respectable dowry consisting of 50 goats and a brighter future.

“The house and the goats enabled us to provide for my daughter when she got married. She and her husband are now happily settled in with us,” Nalini said. “We only had a hut, and I still keep it behind our new home as a reminder of how far we have come. We have always made everything with our own hands, so building the house ourselves has brought me great satisfaction.”

(Top) Vadivalagi with her younger son Thanushan outside their house in Sri Lanka; (bottom) her older son Theekshan with his kid friend

(Top) Vadivalagi with her younger son Thanushan outside their home;
(Bottom) her older son Theekshan with his kid friend. Photos: Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka/Jeevani Fernando.

Beyond livelihood, Nalini’s grandson Theekshan, 8, is also pleased. His favorite pastime is to play in the paddy field with his four-legged friend, a kid named Kannukutty. Speaking of her grandson, Nalini said, “He is very lucky. He never has to be dragged from one refugee camp to another like I had to with my daughter. He has his own room now.”

In 2020, her family welcomed another grandson Thanushan. Living in a stable home, Nalini feels content and peaceful. She said, “My grandsons are now able to get an education. We get to spend time with them in our old age. I will never forget how things were and how things have changed for us as a family.”

As of June 14, 2021, a total of 2,370 returnee families have built or repaired their homes with Habitat Sri Lanka in the multi-year “Homes not Houses” project that began in January 2016. In addition, more than 46,000 people benefited from the project’s flanking measures implemented by Habitat’s partner World Vision Lanka. Such measures included disaster risk reduction mapping, establishment of small and medium-sized enterprises, and other capacity development activities. To improve communities’ resilience, culverts and roads were built, and flood water drainage systems were renovated.

Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka, European Union, Homes not Houses project
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Look how far we have come
Nalini in the field among her herd of goats and cows in Sri Lanka

Look how far we have come

Through the EU-funded “Homes not Houses” project, Sri Lankan families are building better lives.

Sri Lanka

New chapter in life

Through the EU-funded “Homes not Houses” project completed in June 2021, Sri Lankan families are building better lives.

Thushanthini outside her home built with compressed stabilized earth blocks in Sri Lanka

Over 12 years have passed since the civil war ended in Sri Lanka. Yet generations of families still bear the scars from the decades of violence and conflict. By building or repairing a place they can call their own, 2,370 families are starting a new chapter in life. They partnered with Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka and World Vision Lanka under the European Union-funded “Homes not Houses” project completed in June 2021.

Thushanthini (main photo), 31, was raised by her aunt after her parents went missing during the 25-year civil war in Sri Lanka. To this day, she does not know what happened to her parents. Without any siblings or a home of her own, she was considered as among the most vulnerable in Navagirinagar village, Batticaloa, eastern Sri Lanka.

But she takes pride in a decision that she and her husband made in February 2018. “Ours was the first CSEB home in our tightly-knit community,” Thushanthini said. “Many of my neighbors came to visit us out of curiosity about this new material. Once they saw how versatile the bricks are and how nice they look even without plastering, the CSEBs became a popular selection for home construction.”

Her husband Mathivathanan is a mechanic and block-maker. In February 2018, he learned how to produce and build with CSEBs at the block yard run by World Vision Lanka in Batticaloa. Through a livelihood grant, he bought a hand-operated machine to produce the compressed stabilized blocks for the community as well as mold that he uses to produce bricks with decorative motifs. Almost one third of the 138 people trained in skills to produce and build with blocks were women. After being trained, 94 people were in block production yards with an average monthly income of 24,000-28,000 Sri Lankan rupees (about US$120-140).

Yard that produced compressed stabilized earth blocks in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka

Thushanthini’s husband Mathivathanan was more than 130 people trained at the yard that produced compressed stabilized earth blocks in Batticaloa. Photos: Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka/Jeevani Fernando.

The compressed stabilized earth blocks were among appropriate construction materials and technologies that were promoted in the “Homes not Houses” project implemented by Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka and World Vision Lanka. Made of locally sourced materials, the energy-efficient blocks provided an alternative to mining sand and lowered the construction’s carbon footprint. The CSEBs are also known for the ability to keep a house cooler in hot weather and warmer when it is cold outside. In addition, a feasibility study published by the European Union cited CSEBs as a low-carbon, low embodied energy solution for sustainable development.

Based on a homeowner-driven approach, families managed their available resources using grants from Habitat Sri Lanka and built homes at their own pace with Habitat’s technical assistance to ensure construction quality. Although families had a choice of traditional construction materials like fired bricks and cement sand blocks, more than 1,000 of them or 45% of homeowners chose to build their homes with compressed stabilized earth blocks.

These homeowners included Nalini and Jeyanthini who had experienced hardships during the war-torn years. Now that they have a place to call home, they have built strength, stability and self-reliance.

Nalini amid her herd of cows and goats in in the field in Sri Lanka

Nalini amid her herd of cows and goats.

“We only had a hut, and I still keep it behind our new home as a reminder of how far we have come. We have always made everything with our own hands, so building the house ourselves has brought me great satisfaction.” — Nalini

Jeyathini with her family and the coconuts they harvest in Sri Lanka

Jeyanthini, with her husband and younger son, showing the coconuts from their farm.

“Ever since we moved into this home in 2018, we have been blessed with good health and good income.” — Jeyanthini

As of June 14, 2021, a total of 2,370 returnee families have built or repaired their homes with Habitat Sri Lanka in the multi-year “Homes not Houses” project that began in January 2016. In addition, more than 46,000 people benefited from the project’s flanking measures implemented by Habitat’s partner World Vision Lanka. Such measures included disaster risk reduction mapping, establishment of small and medium-sized enterprises, and other capacity development activities. To improve communities’ resilience, culverts and roads were built, and flood water drainage systems were renovated.

Culverts, road drainage and hazard map put up as part of EU-funded project in Sri Lanka

Flanking measures implemented under the “Homes not Houses” project included (from left)  culverts, road drainage and a hazard maps.

Growing up without a decent home, Thushanthini has found stability in life. In the evening, she and her family often sit together on the veranda to watch the sun set. “This home,” she said, “is my most precious possession.”

Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka, European Union, Homes not Houses
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New chapter in life
Thushanthini outside her home built with compressed stabilized earth blocks in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka

New chapter in life

Sri Lanka

Opening the door to lasting solutions

Earthquake-affected Nepali families, who rebuilt their homes with Habitat, cite better health and educational prospects among positive changes.

As a widow struggling to raise two children, Samita did not know how she managed to survive after a devastating earthquake hit Nepal in 2015 and reduced her house to rubble. “In my opinion, it is difficult to live as a single woman in our society and it is even more difficult if one does not have a decent house,” she said.

Samita and her sons had to live in a temporary shelter for three years. Life started to look up in 2018 after she rebuilt her house in Baluwa village, Panchkhal municipality, Kavrepalanchok district, with Habitat for Humanity Nepal’s support.

“I rented land and with the help of my sons, we grew potatoes and other vegetables which brought in income and food for us,” Samita recalled. She also added a kitchen and a new line for electricity has been connected to her home. She shared, “My elder son just got married. I recently purchased a cow and I plan to add an extension to the back of the house for a cowshed.

“Having a Habitat house built up my confidence to take out and repay the loans. I have started saving for the future as a member of a local microfinance institution.”

Samita rebuilt her house after it was destroyed during the 2015 Nepal earthquake

Being a homeowner, Samita is confident to take out and repay microfinance loans. All photos: Habitat for Humanity Nepal/Aalok Khatiwada.

“My sons are now grown up. I can breathe a sigh of relief,” said Samita. “If one has the courage to fight, solutions for survival will be revealed through the difficulties. Now I do not feel that being a single mother will make any difference if one is self-empowered.”

On April 25, 2015, Nepal was hit by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that killed nearly 9,000 people and destroyed over 400,000 homes, and left 2.8 million people displaced.

Habitat Nepal and Architecture Sans Frontiers partnered with over 5,000 families in Kavrepalanchok and Nuwakot districts to rebuild earthquake-resilient homes. A report commissioned by Habitat and published in April 2020 outlined four emerging lessons with insights for future disaster responses by governments and various stakeholders.

Meet other families like Samita who have found lasting solutions to their shelter needs.

Calling it the scariest moment of her life, Balkumari and her youngest daughter managed to run out of their house before it was destroyed in the 2015 earthquake. For more than a year, a shelter made of corrugated roofing sheets was their refuge. Balkumari had to see a doctor weekly after she developed a chronic cough and back pain. The doctor cautioned her against staying in a cold place. “But I had nowhere to go except for the cold temporary shelter during winter,” Balkumari recalled. Five years after moving into her new house that she built with Habitat’s support, Balkumari feels much healthier although she still has to take medicine regularly. She is able to carry on with household and farming activities to earn a living for her family.

When her house in Anaikot village, Kavrepalanchok district, collapsed during the earthquake, Kamala and her son Ujjwal were trapped and had to be rescued from the rubble. Living in a tent made her feel vulnerable. “There was always the fear of tigers and flooding,” said the single mother who had to provide for her son after her husband left them. Staff of Architects Sans Frontiers, Habitat Nepal’s implementing partner in earthquake recovery efforts, persuaded Kamala’s husband to provide a piece of land. Thus, she was able to rebuild her home and raise goats to sell for some income. She also plans to keep a cow and buffalo to improve their financial situation. “This house is the first step in fulfilling my dream to give my son a good education.” She was heartened when her husband returned after several years and acknowledged their son.

When Ram Maya’s family of four was living in a temporary shelter, they had to store the harvests outside or in their earthquake-damaged mud house. About a quarter of the harvested potatoes and rice was lost due to dampness, rodents, squirrels, and insect infestations. The house that they rebuilt with Habitat in Pipaltar, Kavrepalanchok district, has a solid foundation and concrete floor that keep out dampness. “Now we can store the crops and sell at higher prices and even have enough rice for ourselves,” Ram Maya said. She is motivated to increase her farming activities to generate more income. She also plans to add another room to their house in the future.

Sabitri and her family had continued living in their earthquake-damaged house in Kavrepalanchok district for three years until she could rebuild her home with the support of Habitat Nepal. With her elder son, who works in a hotel in Kathmandu, supplementing the family income, Sabitri is able to take care of her husband who is paralyzed and her younger son. “I took a loan from the local women cooperative to convert my damaged house (into a barn) for raising chicken and cattle. I have repaid the loan and am planning to take a new loan for buying more chicken and adding goats.” With more earnings, she wants to add more rooms, particularly as she plans for her elder son to get married.

Samita and her family of four endured five years of living in a small, dark shelter made of tin sheets after their old mud house collapsed during the 2015 earthquake. All of them had to sleep on a mat on the ground and her husband suffered from back pain as a result. Her younger son Aryan could not concentrate on his studies as he was afraid of caterpillars and other insects that crawled into the temporary shelter. After rebuilding their house with Habitat, Samita bought a bed and her husband can sleep better. Now both her children can study at night without worrying about insects and snakes getting into the house.“ I never imagined that we would be able to get out of the hut. But Habitat Nepal helped us to achieve the unimaginable,” Samita said.

A decent home and conducive learning environment enabled Sushant to pass his high school exams with flying colours. “I have a proper room with electricity at night to prepare for my exams.” After the 2015 earthquake, his family had lived in a temporary shelter made of corrugated iron sheets. The cold affected his mother Sita Maya’s health. “My mother feels very weak and not many people want to hire her.” In 2018, their family was able to rebuild their home with Habitat Nepal. Sushant’s goal is to look for a job and earn enough for his mother’s treatment. “I plan to paint our house and add another story for my future family.”

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Calling it the scariest moment of her life, Balkumari and her youngest daughter managed to run out of their house before it was destroyed in the 2015 earthquake. For more than a year, a shelter made of corrugated roofing sheets was their refuge. Balkumari had to see a doctor weekly after she developed a chronic cough and back pain. The doctor cautioned her against staying in a cold place. “But I had nowhere to go except for the cold temporary shelter during winter,” Balkumari recalled. Five years after moving into her new house that she built with Habitat’s support, Balkumari feels much healthier although she still has to take medicine regularly. She is able to carry on with household and farming activities to earn a living for her family.

When her house in Anaikot village, Kavrepalanchok district, collapsed during the earthquake, Kamala and her son Ujjwal were trapped and had to be rescued from the rubble. Living in a tent made her feel vulnerable. “There was always the fear of tigers and flooding,” said the single mother who had to provide for her son after her husband left them. Staff of Architects Sans Frontiers, Habitat Nepal’s implementing partner in earthquake recovery efforts, persuaded Kamala’s husband to provide a piece of land. Thus, she was able to rebuild her home and raise goats to sell for some income. She also plans to keep a cow and buffalo to improve their financial situation. “This house is the first step in fulfilling my dream to give my son a good education.” She was heartened when her husband returned after several years and acknowledged their son.

When Ram Maya’s family of four was living in a temporary shelter, they had to store the harvests outside or in their earthquake-damaged mud house. About a quarter of the harvested potatoes and rice was lost due to dampness, rodents, squirrels, and insect infestations. The house that they rebuilt with Habitat in Pipaltar, Kavrepalanchok district, has a solid foundation and concrete floor that keep out dampness. “Now we can store the crops and sell at higher prices and even have enough rice for ourselves,” Ram Maya said. She is motivated to increase her farming activities to generate more income. She also plans to add another room to their house in the future.

Sabitri and her family had continued living in their earthquake-damaged house in Kavrepalanchok district for three years until she could rebuild her home with the support of Habitat Nepal. With her elder son, who works in a hotel in Kathmandu, supplementing the family income, Sabitri is able to take care of her husband who is paralyzed and her younger son. “I took a loan from the local women cooperative to convert my damaged house (into a barn) for raising chicken and cattle. I have repaid the loan and am planning to take a new loan for buying more chicken and adding goats.” With more earnings, she wants to add more rooms, particularly as she plans for her elder son to get married.

Samita and her family of four endured five years of living in a small, dark shelter made of tin sheets after their old mud house collapsed during the 2015 earthquake. All of them had to sleep on a mat on the ground and her husband suffered from back pain as a result. Her younger son Aryan could not concentrate on his studies as he was afraid of caterpillars and other insects that crawled into the temporary shelter. After rebuilding their house with Habitat, Samita bought a bed and her husband can sleep better. Now both her children can study at night without worrying about insects and snakes getting into the house.“ I never imagined that we would be able to get out of the hut. But Habitat Nepal helped us to achieve the unimaginable,” Samita said.

A decent home and conducive learning environment enabled Sushant to pass his high school exams with flying colours. “I have a proper room with electricity at night to prepare for my exams.” After the 2015 earthquake, his family had lived in a temporary shelter made of corrugated iron sheets. The cold affected his mother Sita Maya’s health. “My mother feels very weak and not many people want to hire her.” In 2018, their family was able to rebuild their home with Habitat Nepal. Sushant’s goal is to look for a job and earn enough for his mother’s treatment. “I plan to paint our house and add another story for my future family.”

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Opening the door to lasting solutions
Samita rebuilt her house after the 2015 earthquake in Nepal

Opening the door to lasting solutions

Small acts, big impact

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, youth supporters are finding tangible ways of supporting the cause of safe, affordable housing.

Kitchy Dy (far left) with other volunteers in the Bistekville 4 community in Quezon City, Philippines

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Michelle Valeri Tantra, 20, has continued to support Habitat in Indonesia. “My purpose in life is not only to work for myself but also to give back to the community by helping others, especially during the pandemic,” she said.

A third-year student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, she has been studying online from her hometown in Jakarta after the coronavirus outbreak in 2020. In the second quarter of 2020, she volunteered as the chief campaign officer for Habitat Indonesia’s temporary shelter project for medical workers. Her role was to find accommodation where frontline workers could safely rest before resuming work.

Michelle said, “Home is where I feel at ease, comfortable, and safe. The healthcare staff are unable to enjoy those, knowing that they might bring the virus to their loved ones when they come home every day.

“It makes me happy to be able to assist frontline healthcare workers, helping them get temporary homes as they fight the coronavirus and put themselves at a very big risk. My effort may seem small but small acts are needed to make a big impact. That’s why I continue to help little by little, hoping that it would eventually be a big impact to those who are in need.”

Michelle Valeri Tantra (left) volunteered with Habitat Indonesia to support its temporary shelter project for medical workers (right)

Michelle (left), who volunteered with Habitat Indonesia, is glad she could help find temporary accommodation for medical workers who put themselves at risk to fight the coronavirus. Photo on the left courtesy of Michelle Valeri Tantra.

To support the campaign, Michelle donated earnings from her own home-made pasta business to Habitat. As of March 2021, she has also raised over 10 million rupiah (nearly US$690) on social media for Habitat Indonesia’s COVID-19 response.

As a member of the Indonesian Students Association, she organized a competitive gaming activity, or e-sport known as PUBG in June 2020, which attracted over 100 participants and raised 3.5 million rupiah. “It warmed my heart that one of the winning teams donated all of their cash prize to help the healthcare staff,” she said.

Michelle hopes to inspire and encourage other young people to support healthcare workers and vulnerable communities during the pandemic. “If my friends and I can do it, I believe many people can do it as well. It is very crucial for us to help each other, especially at this time.”

Kitchy Dy, 21, and her fellow members of the Habitat campus chapter based in Philippines’ Ateneo de Manila University are also motivated to help. “Habitat stood out because their mission is so strong especially in the context of Philippine where the homeless and poverty housing are so prominent.”

While volunteering opportunities are limited due to restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Kitchy said it is crucial to continue contributing to the community. “We had to adapt to change during the pandemic. Our fundraising efforts kept going and they are generally easier to do online. We also worked with seven other chapters to gather experts to speak on the importance of decent housing.”

Kitchy (fifth from left) with other volunteers taking a break from painting the walls (right)

Kitchy (fifth from left) with other volunteers taking a break from painting the walls (right) in Navotas City in October 2019. Photos: Habitat for Humanity Blue Chapter/Miguel Argosino.

So far, Habitat for Humanity Blue Chapter—a nod to the university’s colors—has raised over 300,000 pesos (over US$6,200) to provide relief and sanitary items and other aid to vulnerable communities. The campus chapter members would typically participate in construction activities during the weekends and use social media and school platforms to raise awareness of housing needs. “With effective storytelling, effective education efforts, and letting people know that it (housing) is an important issue, there are tangible ways to support it,” said Kitchy.

The campus chapter also focuses on helping communities reduce disaster risks and build resilience. Key speakers are invited to equip Habitat homeowners with knowledge about preparing for potential disasters in their communities.

Throughout the Asia-Pacific region, young volunteers like Michelle and Kitchy are contributing to Habitat’s COVID-19 responses, in support of the regional #HabitatYLB movement and Habitat’s global
Homes, Communities, Hope +You campaign. Now in its tenth year, the Young Leaders Build 2021 campaign will mark its peak on April 24 with a volunteer conference. Register for the conference at https://bit.ly/YouthfromHome. Follow the campaign on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Small acts, big impact
Kitchy Dy (left) and volunteers at Habitat community in Bistekville 4, Quezon City, Philippines in November 2019

Small acts, big impact

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