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How improved shelter has increased confidence and self-worth of a female headed family

How improved shelter has increased confidence and self-worth of a female headed family

The village Medagamgoda Central, is located in the far south of the country, remote and disadvantaged due to poor infrastructure. About 130 families are living in this village. Most people depend on cultivation, petty trades and daily labour to earn an income to feed their families. Niluka came to live in this village after marriage. Her husband has put up a small house with mud walls and roof covered with partly tinned roofing and tiles. They have been living in this house for long years and had their 4th child too in this house. Adding burden to the poverty, her husband developed a kidney ailment and as it became chronic, he had to go to the hospital for dialysis. In rural situation it becomes extremely difficult for a person to travel to the hospital for dialysis. Niluka as there was no alternative, mortgaged their small plot of land for Rs.100,000 (nearly US $275) to treat her husband. However, this has proven futile. Her husband passed away. This happened about 2 years ago leaving Niluka and her 4 children destitute. Niluka, now aged 37, is a shy person by nature. She can simply read but cannot write. She has not got skills other than housekeeping and caring for children. She could not find any source of income to keep the family going. Finally, she decided to go for labour work in a small cinnamon plantation for a daily wage of Rs.1,300. That too was also for 3 or 4 days of the week. On such days she used to keep the small child in a neighbouring house. The other children went to school. Time passed and Niluka was getting frustrated, more so as she could not properly look after the children. Her ambition was to redeem the mortgage, because she knew that one day with the accumulated interest, she would not be able to redeem the land. By this time, their shelter was also getting to a point of tumbling down any time. While Niluka and her family with the 4 children living in this house, engaging in routine work, Gami Shakthi Sanwardana Sammelanaya (NGO) in collaboration with Hambanthota Rural Organization Development Foundation (Hambantota DC) were distributing food aid to families affected by COVID. The food aid was provided by Developing World Connections (DWC) Canada. In their search of potential families to provide food aid, the NGO came across Niluka's family and without thinking twice they selected her family. Later they sent their details to DWC as a genuine case story of a family that received food assistance. Having learnt about their plight DWC expressed their concern to have her a decent shelter. They agreed to provide funds to build a house for Niluka's family. It then became the responsibility of the NGO and the Hambanthota DC to go ahead with the project. They called for estimates and the original estimate was over Rs.2 million. Meanwhile Niluka somehow, saved money and redeemed the mortgage and owned the title of the land. DWC has provided Rs.1.42 million for the project. Of the balance amount promised by the local Housing Development Agency, Niluka received only Rs.150,000. With the escalation of cost of building materials due to inflation caused by economic hardships, the building work to continue according to the estimate became a challenge. The NGO and the DC did not sit back. They got hold of the youth in the locality and organized Shramadana (Self Help) to help with the labour work. The youth were keen and gave their support to masons and carpenters. In less than six months the house was completed with 2 rooms, a living room, bathing place, kitchen and a toilet. Niluka and her family are now living in this newly constructed house, their new home. She is indeed a happy woman now. Recollecting on the life that she and her children spent in their old house she said " Sometimes when it is raining, I could not cook food, because rainwater pierces through the roof. On such occasions my neighbours gave us food." She continued "I never thought that I would be able to live in a house like this. It is a dream come true." She further said " I appealed to responsible agencies to support me in building a shelter. But all those appeals turned on deaf ears. Finally with the mediation of NGO I was able to have this house. Now we have earned respect in the society as we have a decent place to live. I owe my gratitude to all those who supported me and the DWC, the organization that gave us funds." Commenting on Niluka' s predicament, the Chairperson of the NGO said "Niluka now is a smart person. When we first met her she did not even like to face us. She was so shy. She now takes part in our activities on nutrition promotion and other work. We are now planning to provide her livelihood assistance for home gardening and raising chicken for eggs from which she can earn an additional income" . Further, Niluka's daughter Natasha too is a happy girl. She is now studying in grade 11. She said, " Earlier I did not have a place to study nor to do my homework. I was really unhappy. Now I have a room. I can neatly keep my clothes and books. I now get up early in the morning and study. I can also help my sister and brother in their studies." She added, "Earlier I was too shy. I was afraid to speak in public. The aunties who came to build this house got friendly with me, talked to me on life skills that I should have as a teenage girl. This house and my interaction with them have changed my perception of self and the community. I have a long journey to go and am determined to pursue that".

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