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

From surviving to thriving

Meet two families whose lives have been transformed through safe, secure housing more than a decade after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Mahadevi (right) and her daughter Praveena at the steps of their house in southern India

In a year dominated by COVID-19, it may be easy to overlook disaster-affected families whose lives have been transformed through safe, secure housing. We share stories of two Habitat families in India who rebuilt their homes and lives following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Mahadevi was at a local market on December 26, 2004, when she heard people talking about huge waves that were going to hit India’s coastal areas. Worried about her three young children, she rushed to get home. “My children were safe but the tragedy had just begun,” said Mahadevi, recounting the day when the Indian Ocean tsunami hit Killai village, Cuddalore district, Tamil Nadu state.

Her husband Mohan had gathered their children up and run out of the house before the waves hit. “We just ran and ran before the tsunami engulfed the whole village,” said Mahadevi’s daughter Praveena who was 6 years old when the disaster struck. “When we returned, all the houses were flattened.”

The family of five took refuge in relief camps before moving to a transitional shelter. With the support of Habitat India and its partners, Mahadevi and her family was finally able to settle in into a secure, permanent home in 2006.

Mahadevi (right) and her daughter Praveena at their house in southern India

After her marriage, Praveena (left) would visit her mother Mahadevi regularly. All photos by Habitat for Humanity India/Saint Kamei.

A decent home opened up new opportunities. Mahadevi said, “Fifteen years ago, we only thought about catching fish from the sea and selling them to make a living. For a long time in our lives, nothing changed beyond mere subsistence. A thatched roof was the best we could have hoped for.

“Our lives are not the same anymore. In the aftermath of this tragedy, things have turned out for the best. We now have a house that we call our own. My children have grown up and one has gotten married.”

Praveena, the middle child, graduated from college with a major in science. In March 2020, she married Shiva, who is a fisherman. Pratap, the eldest son, followed in his father’s footsteps to take up fishing full-time after completing the equivalent of high school. The youngest daughter Prasanna is a high school student.

The family has greatly improved their core house since moving into it in 2006. An additional bedroom and a new kitchen were built while the verandah was painted for Praveena’s wedding.

Mahadevi expanded her home after moving into a core house similar to those (right) built under Habitat India's partnership with The Leprosy Mission Trust India

Mahadevi expanded her home after moving into a core house similar to those (right) built under Habitat India’s partnership with The Leprosy Mission Trust India.

Fisherman Nagarajan, who lives in Cuddalore district, could also recall the horrific day. “When the tsunami hit the village, we ran for our lives to get to higher ground. Our flimsy thatched houses could not withstand the towering waves. They were flattened to the ground. Twelve people from our small fishing village were lost.”

In the aftermath, Nagarajan and his family of six joined many others in a relief camp. For a year, his family lived in a tent provided by a relief agency. Having their own home at last opened the door to positive changes.

“We were fishermen, barely making ends meet. Now, 15 years after the tsunami, our economic condition has vastly improved. For many years after the tsunami, we fished only in the backwater and rivers, too scared to venture out to the sea. With time, we started fishing in the high seas again,” said Nagarajan.

Nagarajan (top, center) with his wife, daughters-in-law, sister-in-law and grandchild at home in southern India

Nagarajan (top, center) with his wife, daughters-in-law, sister-in-law and grandchild at home in southern India. He expanded their home including building more bedrooms.

He added, “Thanks to Habitat who gave us the foundation to rebuild our lives, I could extend my house by building three more bedrooms, a hall and a kitchen.” His sons Punaraja, Vedmungan and Manigandan are married with children. His youngest daughter Rasjeshwari had graduated from college in 2020.

Mahadevi and Nagarajan were among more than 11,000 tsunami-affected families who rebuilt their homes and lives as of September 2009 through Habitat India’s response. In addition, Habitat India trained about 27,000 families on the country’s east coast through disaster mitigation and preparedness programs.

The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was one of the worst disasters in recent history. More than 225,000 people died or disappeared and another 1 million people were displaced. Habitat for Humanity’s overall response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami has assisted about 22,500 families including those in Indonesia’s Aceh province, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

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From surviving to thriving
Mahadevi (right) and her daughter Praveena on the steps of her house in southern India

From surviving to thriving

Going beyond builds

Young volunteers share how they stay engaged amid a pandemic.

Volunteers shoveling gravel during a May 2019 build in Nepal

Over the past decade of the Habitat Young Leaders Build, volunteers had actively worked on home construction until the global COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to in-person activities. But all is not lost. Vas Menon, 17, said: “There is more to helping Habitat for Humanity than going out for a build.” A volunteer with Habitat Indonesia since 2017, the high school student had helped build homes, painted walls and laid foundations in various locations in Indonesia. He also took part in fundraising activities.

In Indonesia, where the number of new COVID-19 infections has dropped to over 4,800 a day on April 12 from a high in January 2021, the role of housing as the first line of defense against the pandemic remains crucial. “Housing is more important than ever; housing keeps people safe from the pandemic,” he said.

Vas and Diego with fellow volunteers from Jakarta Intercultural School

Vas (far left) and Diego (fourth from left) with fellow volunteers from Jakarta Intercultural School and the future homeowner family. Photos courtesy of respective volunteers and Habitat Indonesia.

Vas became friends with Diego Marques due to their shared passion for volunteering. They met through the Habitat club in Jakarta Intercultural School which has actively supported Habitat Indonesia for over 15 years. The club had planned to raise their target for volunteer builds from five to eight per academic year.

Besides builds, the club had organized fundraising swim meets in 2018 and 2019 in which parents and teachers sponsored students for each lap that they completed. In 2020, the swim meet was cancelled to ensure safety amid the pandemic.

While the buddies cannot volunteer on build sites due to the pandemic, they and their peers at the Habitat club continued their community outreach activities remotely. They donated to provide food care packages, comprising cans of preserved meat, rice, and oil to communities most affected by the pandemic.

Facebook graphic for Habitat Indonesia's Giving for Giving initiative

Vas and Diego also gave language lessons through Habitat Indonesia’s Giving for Giving initiative.

Through the virtual volunteering activity, “Giving for Giving,” Diego provided Spanish lessons while Vas taught English. Fees from the lessons went toward supporting Habitat Indonesia’s temporary shelter for medical workers project.

Fellow Habitat club members Ananya Sahai and Sara Bohra, both 18, also found ways to continue engaging with Habitat. Other than joining “Giving for Giving,” they participated in the online events that marked the launch of the Habitat Young Leaders Build campaign in December 2020.

Ananya and Sara were among volunteers from Jakarta Intercultural School who built with Habitat in Indonesia

Ananya (photo on the left) and Sara (second from left in photo on the right) enjoyed interactions with local communities during Habitat builds in Indonesia.

Ananya and Sara look forward to visiting Habitat communities again because of the opportunities for students to build relationships and strengthen the communities. Ananya said, “We get to talk to people; sometimes we sit and have lunch with them. And just observe life in the village to get a better context of who we are helping.”

Throughout the Asia-Pacific region, young volunteers like Vas, Diego, Ananya and Sara are supporting the regional #HabitatYLB movement including implementing activities that contribute to Habitat’s COVID-19 responses and Habitat’s global fundraising initiative, Homes, Communities, Hope +You. 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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Going beyond builds
Habitat volunteers shoveling gravel during a May 2019 build in Nepal

Going beyond builds

Young volunteers share how they stay engaged amid a pandemic.

Every hand that makes a difference

The European Union-funded “Homes not Houses” project in Sri Lanka provides support for livelihoods beyond masonry.

Thiyagalingam operates the machines at the EU project's block yard in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka

The European Union-funded “Homes not Houses” project in Sri Lanka provides support for livelihoods beyond masonry.

Thatsanamoorthy, 42, has always been good with his hands but epileptic episodes have left him struggling to use his talents to provide for his family. “I am a skilled mason, but it became dangerous for me to remain in the construction industry because of my illness,” he said.In February 2017, through training provided under the European Union-funded “Homes not Houses” project in Sri Lanka, he was able to turn his sculpting hobby into a livelihood. The training was part of the flanking measures provided by Habitat’s implementing partner, World Vision Sri Lanka.

With support from EU project in Sri Lanka, Thatsanamoorthy turned his sculpting hobby into a livelihood

Former mason Thatsanamoorthy works from home, supplying objects that he made (inset) to homes and businesses as well as for religious purposes. Photos: Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka/Jeevani Fernando.

Thatsanamoorthy also received a small grant to buy molds and raw materials to start his own business at his home in Kokkadichcholai, Batticaloa, Eastern Province. Besides making ornate pottery and grills for businesses and homes, he also supplies nearby temples during religious festivals.

He is grateful that he can make a living while being safe and near his family. “I don’t know what I would have done without the training and support I have received. I can now watch my daughter grow while earning an income too.”

Mason Kandeepan (left) expanded the kitchen area that is painted blue, in his wife's favorite color

Mason Kandeepan, pictured left with his family, built his home himself and expanded the kitchen area that is painted blue—his wife’s favorite color.

While Manoharan, 45, and Kandeepan, 39, have continued as masons, they have been able to upgrade their skills through Habitat’s training in the use of compressed stabilized earth blocks, an appropriate construction material with a low carbon footprint. A feasibility study published by the European Union has cited compressed stabilized earth blocks as a low-carbon, low embodied energy solution for sustainable development.

“As a mason, I wanted to do everything with my own hands. I am so proud that I was able to lay every block, every tile, and install every frame and all doors and windows of our home,” Kandeepan said. But nothing beats fulfilling his wife’s wish. “Along with the grant from Habitat, I invested my own funds to build an extra space outside the kitchen for my wife. She likes the color blue and has always wanted a blue kitchen,” he said.

With the support of Habitat Sri Lanka’s technical officer, he was able to meet his personal construction deadline and his family moved into their new home in Killinochchi, Northern Province, in January 2021, considered an auspicious month of new beginnings.

Manoharan (left) built a home for his parents (right)

During the pandemic, Manoharan (left) continued to build a home for his parents (right).

For Manoharan, his sense of fulfilment came from building a home for his parents in their sunset years. After being displaced during Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war, his parents, Vairamuththu, 89, and Vairamuthi, 80, found it hard to build a life even after the conflict ended in 2009. Their property and important documents were either destroyed or could not be found and they depended on the government to provide temporary shelter.

“I spent nearly 10 years without much hope,” his mother Vairamuthi said. She also struggled to care for his father Vairamuththu who was paralyzed after a stroke. Due to loss of contact and distance from other children, their only source of support is Manoharan who lives with them.

With the training that he received in 2018 under the “Homes not Houses” project, Manoharan could continue to build their home in Mullaitivu, Northern Province, amid the pandemic. After moving into their home in January 2021, Vairamuthi said, “We’re very proud that our son is part of a new movement to save the environment. This is truly a very comfortable, clean and well-ventilated home. I thank the gods every day for providing us this comfort, after many years of hardships. At least, at the end of our lives, we can finally sleep well at night.”

Workers at the block-making yard under EU-funded "Homes not Houses" project

As a senior trainer, Thiyagalingam (center) works with technical officer Vinod (left) and is glad the “Homes not Houses” project has provided livelihood opportunities to people with disabilities such as Arulanandam (right) who is responsible for curing blocks.

In addition to masonry training, Habitat Sri Lanka has provided livelihood opportunities to craftsmen, builders and workers. Thiyagalingam, 52, was one of the first individuals trained to operate block-producing machines in 2016 at the inception of the “Homes not Houses” project. For the last three years, he has been maintaining the machines in Habitat’s yard that produces compressed stabilized earth blocks in Batticaloa, Eastern Province.

As a senior trainer with five years of experience, he provides orientation to new employees and works with technical officer Vinod, 27, who is responsible for checking the quality of the blocks produced at the yard. “I am particularly happy that this project has enabled people with disabilities to be engaged in income-generating employment,” Thiyagalingam said.

Through the use of appropriate construction technology and materials in the “Homes not Houses” project, people in the community including women have gained an unique skill. That edge can help improve living standards, Thiyagalingam said. He added, “I am proud that I am among the first to promote appropriate construction technology in Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province and I hope that the commercial use of CSEBs will continue and flood the market.”

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Every hand that makes a difference
Thiyagalingam operates the machines at a block-making yard under the EU project in Sri Lanka

Every hand that makes a difference

The home makers

Through the European Union-funded “Homes not Houses” project, conflict-affected Sri Lankan families are able to cope in a time of pandemic and look to the future

Homeowner Selvam (center) with her mother-in-law Vadivelu and her mother Anandamma at the door of her house in Sri Lanka

Through the European Union-funded “Homes not Houses” project, conflict-affected Sri Lankan families are able to cope in a time of pandemic and look to the future

As she recalls her years of displacement during Sri Lanka’s civil war, Selvam, 32, wants to protect her 13-year-old daughter from such an experience. Selvam shared, “I had no privacy in the refugee camps and felt extremely vulnerable. I do not want my daughter to go through that.” Her own mother Anandamma still bears the burnt marks on her body—a lasting reminder of the decades-long conflict.

Her family could finally put the past behind them now that they have a safe, secure home. As of January 2021, they are among 2,105 families who have partnered with Habitat Sri Lanka and World Vision Sri Lanka in the European Union-funded “Homes not Houses” project. A total of 2,366 homes are expected to be completed by mid-2021.

Over 45% of the homes were built with the use of appropriate construction technology and locally available materials such as compressed stabilized earth blocks. A feasibility study published by the European Union has cited compressed stabilized earth blocks as a low-carbon, low embodied energy solution for sustainable development.

Selvam and her extended family of six had moved into their new home in Maavadiyamman, Killinochchi district, Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, in December 2019. They were able to safely and comfortably shelter in place following a three-month lockdown in March 2020. Built with compressed stabilized earth blocks, their home was cool, well-ventilated and spacious enough for the family to quarantine together and for Selvam’s daughter Lavanya to have her own room. In addition, the children can better concentrate on their studies.

Selvam (above) at the door of her house (exterior view, below).

With a stable home, Selvam has started a vegetable garden for her family’s food supply. Photos: Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka/Jeevani Fernando.

The economic fallout from Sri Lanka’s first lockdown, which lasted three months till end-June, had affected daily wage workers like Selvam and her relatives. “During the COVID lockdown, my family and my in-laws lost income and were struggling for meals,” she said. In August 2020, she received emergency financial assistance under the “Homes not Houses” project that enabled her to start a vegetable garden for her family’s food supply.

A stable home has also helped improve familial relationships. “Miracles happened here!” Selvam said. “Ever since I moved into the new house, my mother and mother-in-law have become closer and they are now both supportive of me!”

Her mother-in-law Vadivelu, 60, was so impressed with Selvam’s home that she also built her house using compressed stabilized earth blocks. “I have always wanted a big house as I have a big family and many grandchildren. I want all of them to be able to visit me and stay over,” Vadivelu said. Her favorite part of her house is the front door for which she spent an additional 45,000 Sri Lankan rupees (US$225). “I want the front door to be made out of the best quality wood. The entrance to the house is very important; it should make a statement.”

Selvam's mother-in-law Vadivelu built her house with compressed stabilized earth blocks and spent money on a quality door

Selvam’s mother-in-law Vadivelu also built her house with compressed stabilized earth blocks and spent money on a quality door.

In another part of Killinochchi, Sivaluxmi, 60, had looked forward to having a stable home after a lifetime of fleeing from the civil war and struggling for survival after her husband’s death.

She was in the midst of building her home when the Sri Lankan government declared a nationwide lockdown in March 2020 to curb the spread of the coronavirus. “I was frustrated that the pandemic slowed everything down,” she said.

She did not have to the bear the anxiety alone because Habitat Sri Lanka’s staff kept in touch with her to provide updates on the lockdown situation.

Sivaluxmi (above) and with her mother Ahala (below) outside their new house in Killinochchi

Sivaluxmi (above) and with her mother Ahala (below) outside their new house in Killinochchi. She looks forward to welcoming her daughter-in-law into the family after her son’s marriage.

The project’s homeowner-driven strategy, which enabled her to manage available resources and build at her own pace, helped Sivaluxmi and her family to cope. Having received masonry skills training from Habitat Sri Lanka, her only son Thananjan, 30, was able to accelerate the pace of construction of their home.

By January 2021, Sivaluxmi and her family were ready for the next phase in their lives. “Habitat made sure that I had a new home ready for moving in by this auspicious month,” she said. “I have always wanted a stable home and a daughter. My son will be married soon and I am looking forward to welcoming a daughter into our home. I am grateful to the gods above for making my wishes come true, one by one.”

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The home makers
Selvam (center) with her mother and mother-in-law in front of her house in Sri Lanka

The home makers

Homes of tomorrow

Displaced during Sri Lanka’s 30-year civil war, the families who partnered with Habitat in the EU-funded “Homes not Houses” project are able to provide a secure, comfortable home for the future generation.

Mango leaves tied to a door post in Sri Lanka signalled the auspicious start to construction.

Displaced during the 30-year civil war in Sri Lanka, the families who partnered with Habitat in the EU-funded project are able to provide a secure, comfortable home for the future generation.

Once Ushathevi and her family had to keep fleeing the shelling that came down like rain in Sri Lanka. Now she can rest under the shade of mango trees in her home garden. It is a luxury that her grandchild can also enjoy.

Her family was the first to build their home in Vilawedduwan village, Batticaloa province, in 2017 with compressed stabilized earth blocks, an appropriate construction material that provides thermal comfort. They were among nearly 1,070 families who have built such homes by late November 2020 through the European Union-funded “Homes not Houses” project in eastern and northeastern Sri Lanka. The project is implemented by Habitat Sri Lanka and World Vision Sri Lanka.

Ushathevi sitting under the shade as her daughter comes home from school.

Ushathevi sitting under the shade of the mango trees outside her house as her daughter comes home from school. All photos by Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka/Jeevani Fernando.

When Ushathevi and her family opened the doors to their new home in 2017, they finally closed the chapter on years of displacement and uncertainty due to the 30-year ethnic war in Sri Lanka. After a decade of moving from one refugee camp to another, a secure home of their own meant they could put down roots and plan for a brighter future.

Since moving into a permanent, secure home three years ago, their family income has at least doubled to 1,000 Sri Lankan rupees (over US$5) a day with yields from her garden of fruit such as oranges and mangoes as well as crops of beans and peanuts. They have also added one bedroom to accommodate the eldest son Akash and new daughter-in-law.

Ushathevi in her house built with compressed stabilized earth blocks in Batticaloa, eastern Sri Lanka
“I am relieved that we are able not only to give our children a safe home but also to provide a cool and comfortable abode for a third generation.”
— Ushathevi

In the same village, Anjalithevi is nurturing a new life in her family after becoming a homeowner in 2018 through the EU project. She gave birth to her second son Sarwin, now 12 months old, in 2020. “My children love their bedroom where it is spacious and cool. They don’t use a fan even during the day,” she said. “I’m extremely happy that the children are growing in a healthy environment.”

Over the last two years, her husband Allimuththu’s income has improved. As a carpenter, he used to earn between 250 and 1,000 Sri Lankan rupees daily from working with hotels, schools and small shops. By providing carpentry work needed for the homes that Habitat Sri Lanka is building under the “Homes not Houses” project, his earnings has more than doubled to between 1,500 and 2,500 Sri Lankan rupees daily. “We want to improve our carpentry business. I also hope to invest in a new sewing machine so I can earn some income,” Anjalithevi said.

Anjalithevi (left) at her door and her elder son looking on as his younger brother slept.

According to Anjalithevi (left), her children (right) don’t even need a fan as the house stays cool.

As of November 30, 2020, Habitat Sri Lanka has completed 1,959 out of 2,366 new and repaired homes under the EU-funded project. Another 293 houses are in the process of being certified as completed. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the physical inspections by the District Secretariat that are necessary for certifying the house completion have been delayed.

Work on the project was also paused for a few months to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in accordance with the Sri Lankan government’s regulations. Habitat Sri Lanka, through reallocated funds donated by the EU, provided a one-time cash grant of 12,000 Sri Lankan rupees each to 1,986 future homeowners to tide them over.

For Yogendra, a 43-year-old housewife, moving into a decent house in 2018 in Vilawedduwan village has helped her family to cope amid the COVID-19 pandemic. “The biggest impact was the fact that our family could sell eggs and make a living even during the lockdown.”

(Top) Yogendra and her daughter Thenuja with neighbors' children at window. (Bottom) Thenuja tutoring the children at her home.

With a stable home, Yogendra (top, second from right) could earn a living during the lockdown and her daughter Thenuja (bottom, right) has adequate space to tutor the neighbors’ children.

Her daughter Thenuja, 14, appreciates their Habitat home for a different reason: more space to gather neighbors’ children together for a time of learning. Their old home was simply too small to accommodate the children who needed tutoring from Thenuja. In the afternoon, it can get too hot for the children to sit outdoors.

An aspiring teacher, Thenuja conducts daily study classes in their living room that is cool and comfortable. “My little brother is the naughtiest but he still pretends to study,” she quipped. As an encouragement, she shared: “Everyone must educate themselves fervently, so that they may live useful lives for their home, community and country.”

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Homes of tomorrow
Mango leaves tied to a door post in Sri Lanka to mark auspicious start to constructoin

Homes of tomorrow

Youth leaders kick off campaign

Without the typical in-person activities, youth leaders tapped into social media to raise awareness and rally their peers in support of the cause for decent housing.

Graphic for 2021 Habitat Young Leaders Build campaign

MANILA (January 14, 2021) — Young leaders showed strong support for the 2021 Habitat Young Leaders Build campaign despite the tenth annual edition being launched in a new normal. Without in-person activities — characteristic of previous campaigns launched on International Volunteer Day, December 5 — youth supporters tapped into social media to raise awareness and rally their peers to support the cause of decent, affordable housing.

‘X’, the roman numeral for ‘10’, was aptly used in social media graphics for the campaign’s largely virtual launch. More than 400 posts with a total reach of almost 630,000 online audiences were registered on December 5 alone. Besides using a custom Facebook frame, supporters shared photos and stories online to highlight the positive impacts of decent housing on families and communities as well as the benefits gained from volunteering on Habitat builds.

Armaan, volunteer from India

“Being part of a house build was undoubtedly a life-changing experience. Habitat India volunteers were way more fun and helpful than I imagined. It’s definitely an organization that’s by the people, for the people and of the people.” — Armaan, India

Chy, volunteer from Cambodia

“I learned how to facilitate and lead the youth to implement community-based projects...My favorite part of volunteering with Habitat Cambodia is sharing what I have learned from the HYLB Leadership Academy and my experiences with the youth and students in high schools.”
Chy, Cambodia

Other activities included:

JAPAN: Habitat’s campus chapters organized an online educational series on Habitat’s work and the Sustainable Development Goals and discussions on volunteer safety as well as volunteering virtually.

SINGAPORE: a total of 26 volunteers from the Hwa Chong Institution, Raffles Institution and Yale-NUS Habitat campus chapters helped five older people to clean their homes during a Project HomeWorks activity.

INDIA: more than 1,700 participants cumulatively ran more than 10,000 kilometers in 10 cities during ‘VolRUNteer.’ The event was organized by Habitat India to raise awareness of the campaign as well as funds for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since December, over 50 young leaders have raised at least 100,000 Indian rupees (over US$1,300) each through ‘VolRUNteer’ and crowdfunding sites.

India participants (left) and a Singapore volunteer in respective Habitat Young Leaders Build activities

In India, not only did Habitat staff member Srichana (left) and her younger sister Yashaswini (center) in Bengaluru take part but they also inspired nine more young people to take part in the ‘VolRUNteer’ activity. Over in Singapore (right), a volunteer was among others who helped clean up homes under Project HomeWorks.

INDONESIA: a virtual meeting called ‘RUMAH’ (meaning ‘house’ in Indonesian) marked the campaign’s launch with participants representing United Nations Volunteers and Habitat in Indonesia and the Philippines as well as academe. One of the youth speakers, Jacqueline Handoyo, declared: “I absolutely love Habitat. The day I volunteered for them was the day I discovered that my true purpose in life is bigger than myself. It gives me a reason in life to wake up every morning and to work hard because there’s a world out there that needs nurturing and needs our help. I truly fell in love with helping people in need and felling true fulfillment/gratitude through giving.” After taking part in ‘RUMAH,’ Hannah Dermawan and Louisa Nakamura, both 15, have started raising funds to improve a house and a school in Jakarta.

Screenshot of Habitat Indonesia's 'RUMAH' event via Zoom

Screenshot of Habitat Indonesia’s ‘RUMAH’ event via Zoom.

The following week, Habitat Indonesia co-hosted a virtual “HFI Volunteer Appreciation Night” with Humanitarian Forum Indonesia, a collaboration of non-governmental organizations. About 50 people joined the online event (in Bahasa Indonesia) that aimed to highlight youth volunteering activities that support humanitarian efforts including responses to COVID-19 and disasters in the country.

Following the virtual event, Habitat Indonesia conducted the Chandra Asri leadership training for 80 people — all wearing masks amid physical distancing and other measures — in Anyer, Banten. The participants drafted 16 project proposals that address their community’s concerns, namely the need to improve the youth’s employability and to promote the community’s agricultural products in online marketplaces.

Philippines: seven campus chapters based in Metro Manila organized a webinar, “Beyond the Concrete,” ahead of the campaign launch to highlight the impact of housing from a multi-sectoral perspective and to empower the youth to take action. The spotlight also turned on a student-initiated fundraising drive, “Bigay Bukas”. Funds raised will be used to help provide school supplies and tools to support distance learning of children living in communities where Habitat works.

On December 5, a video featuring young leaders making the case for the cause of housing kicked off the campaign. “What we are building is not just the houses for people to live in but also the community they can stay and also the opportunities for their future,” said Rita Galvez, president of Habitat’s University of the Philippines Diliman campus chapter.

Rita Galvez, president of Habitat’s University of the Philippines Diliman campus chapter

Video screenshot of Rita Galvez. She also stated that a home is a basic necessity.

The multi-month #HabitatYLB campaign will continue with a regional virtual volunteer conference in February 2020.  Some of Asia-Pacific’s most passionate champions for the cause of housing will come together to discuss shelter issues and create action plans to mobilize the youth to support Habitat’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in their countries. Follow Habitat Young Leaders Build on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more details.

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10th anniversary kickoff
Graphic for 2021 Habitat Young Leaders Build

Youth leaders kick off campaign

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