15/08/2016 – Bogawanthalawa, Sri Lanka: Imagine living your whole life in a house where you share with another 8 people. Everyone is sleeping in the same room, using a public toilet and when you come out there are over another 12 to 15 families living in the same block, utilizing the same resources like water, electricity and other utilities.
“From the time I was born this is how we lived. I always thought that this is the life we are designated to be” says Ganeshan Karunakaran, a 28 year old estate worker from Bridwell Division in Bogawantalawa located in Central Sri Lanka. He and his family and his mother are now deemed to be a beneficiary of a brand new house under the Estate Housing Project implemented by Sri Lanka Red Cross. The project is supported by the International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and funded by the Government of India.
Recently Ganeshan signed the necessary documents in order to begin this new process .
As part of the Red Cross attempts to alleviate poverty across Sri Lanka and to support marginalized and vulnerable communities this project will see the construction of over 1200 houses in the Estate Sector. Based on the same model as the Northern Housing Project which completed the construction of 21,000 houses on the owner driven concept, the Estate Housing Project will also provide cash grants to beneficiaries in order to build their homes.
According to the World Bank, while urban poverty halved during the period since the war concluded in 2009, rural poverty declined by less than five percentage points and poverty in the estates sector increased significantly— making this sector the poorest in the country.
The estate sector in Sri Lanka traces a history of almost 150 years. The British started the industry in the 1800s with ‘imported’ indentured labor from South India and today’s estate population are descendants of this labor that was brought into the country up until the 1940s. Sri Lanka’s success as a lead exporter of tea in the 1960s and 1970s ensured the continuation of the industry through many subsequent changes in the form of however benefits towards is workers have remained low.
“What we have seen from time and time after is that despite there is a considerable growth in other sectors, which has contributed to the growth of the people affiliated to it, however in the estate sector they continue to live in an appalling and deplorable conditions which is very much unaccepted during this time and age” says the President of Sri Lanka Red Cross Jagath Abeysinghe. “This is one of the many reasons we wanted to be part of this housing project for the estate sector”
The Project will provide a cash grant of 950,000 LKR (6,535 USD) to each beneficiary in several installments to build a permanent house. This house will have two rooms, a living room, a kitchen, a toilet constructed within 550 square feet. The beneficiary will also receive a 7 perch land in order to build the house along with electricity and water. The beneficiary has to contribute with labour and support in order to build the house. They will have a clear say in how their house should look like and how it will be built.
“We are motivated to do more for these people” says Igor Dmitryuk the Head of Country Office of the IFRC in Sri Lanka who recently toured Bogawanthalawa where the Red Cross is beginning its project. “The current living conditions they are in are completely unacceptable. They are one of the most vulnerable communities in Sri Lanka. This project will certainly enhance the quality of their life and their living standards”
Accordingly, a community meeting took place in the Bridwell Division in Bogowantalawa. Here Red Cross staff took steps to explain to the beneficiaries as to what they would receive and how this construction process will take place. They were educated more on as to what they need to do and how their contribution will make the construction of their future homes a real success.
“In my lifetime I have seen many politicians and people who come to us and tell us that they will do everything to change our lives, however those have so far been mere words. Today this project by the Government of India and the Red Cross has made them a reality” says Ganeshan.
Under the Estate Housing Project, the Red Cross will be building 1500 houses.