Nirvana in Sri Lanka

Nirvana in Sri Lanka

BarbC

From our Chair Barbara Cuthbert, on a month’s sabbatical in Sri Lanka

I feel guilty reporting that while you are all enjoying more of Auckland’s sleazy weather I have been soaking up 35′ heat and 95% humidity in Sri Lanka for the past week, building brick houses for 24 homeless families in Negombo, a small coastal city just north of Colombo.

The families are all living with relatives in tiny 2 and 3 roomed shanties and most make their living as fishermen and garment workers. 10 years ago they formed a collective, 5 years ago they were given a large plot of land by a benefactor, and for the past year they have been working with Habitat for Humanity to get support to build houses for each family.

Enter 95 Kiwis, 45 young Japanese and a few Aussies and Brits, and you have the Sri Lanka Big Build. It has taken us 5 days to lay bricks, pour concrete floors, paint windows and doors, put on coconut wood roof beams and rafters, help local tradesman lay roof tiles – and by magic – we have a village of 24 little houses, about 30m2 each, with foundations beside for two further bedrooms when the families have, paid off the loan for their new houses. Habitat design the loans to be spread out over 5 years, and are less than the monthly payments they presently make for their grim sqatter homes, where they have no tenure or security.

They now have a kitchen, bedroom, living room, individual outside squat toilet and well clear of the latter, a bore and hand pump for each house. We spent Friday putting finishing touches to the grounds – paths, more concrete pads around the house, and any other landscaping features the families could dream up. I have to confess it was a bit like a sand castle competition – as soon as I put a koru using shells in one of our paths, they were ‘needed’ by the surrounding houses.

The reason I am telling you all of this on our Cycle Action blog is shown in the photo. I was over the moon to see a gleaming red bike with chain cover and carrier outside one of the houses. The father, Antony, proudly told me he took ownership of it on Friday, the day his house was finished.

“I am now a man who owns a house, so I have also bought the bike I have been dreaming of owning as well, so I can use it for my work. We now have everything a family needs for a happy life.”

I told him about Cycle Action, and how we are aiming to get people in Auckland to ride a bike for transport as well. He understood totally. He’s got his priorities right, and could teach us a thing of two. Imagine my joy to share in helping him fulfil his dreams. Nirvana for us both.

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