The Pearl of the Indian Ocean. Otherwise known as Sri Lanka. Shaped like a teardrop falling from the southern tip of India, Sri Lanka is a small island that’s big on hospitality. Quickly becoming a popular tourist destination it has lots to offer. Beaches that rank among the world’s most beautiful, 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a 92% literacy rate, and one of the most important Buddhist shires in the world. Because of the richness and diversity of the indigenous flora and tropical climate, Sri Lanka’s gifts to the world include rubber, coconut, Ayurvedic medicine and some of its best tea. This is where I happily find myself for two blissful weeks, building houses with Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka and the Global Village Program.
After a relatively short taxi ride (which cost 1300 LKR – Sri Lankan Rupees, roughly $10 USD) from the Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo to our hotel in Negombo, the beach was a welcome sight! Our home for one night, where we met the rest of the team (18 in all) is The Paradise Beach Hotel. Negombo, however, wasn’t our final destination.
Our build site is in Matale, Central District. After a 4 hour drive and a stop for lunch we arrived in the rain at the Dambulla Oya Family Park, which reminds me a lot of some other places. Passing the lush green rice paddy reminds me of Pokhara, Nepal. The mountains and our hotel remind me of Mulanje, Malawi. I am eager to discover all the wonderful things that make Sri Lanka unique.
The hotel, which is more like a very charming and simple compound perched on a river, with large open air verandas for eating and hanging out and rooms that look like small apartments. It’s the ideal home for the team where a lot of group bonding will undoubtedly take place over the course of the next two weeks. Tonight we had our orientation with local Habitat staff and tomorrow morning we’ll meet our partner families and the community and get to work!
Having been in business since 1995, Habitat Sri Lanka reassessed the housing needs within the country. They found that many people in need of help could not take on a loan large enough to build an entire house. Many had housing in some stage of construction and had collected building materials, but could not afford to continue. Labor rates are high and therefore many houses sat unfinished, some for years.
In 2007 Habitat adopted a model of micro-lending to help people finish their houses, by taking out a small loan. The families must meet certain criteria. They need to have collected building materials, have money saved, have the ability to repay their loan and must prove land ownership. Loans are given in various amounts based on the homeowners ability to repay. Once the work is completed and the loan is repaid, the family can apply for a second or third loan to continue to make improvements. Some homes have a foundation, but no walls. Some need to be plastered, some need doors and windows.
This new model has been a success and Habitat has been able to serve more families in need. Our team is going to be working on 20 houses! All the homes are a different stages of completion. Our volunteer labor contribution has a great impact on the advancement of the work. Each member of our team contributed $550 to Habitat Sri Lanka (the other large donation included in the cost goes to Habitat International’s Global Village). Our contributions also help to pay Habitat Sri Lanka’s overhead, thereby leaving more money available for loans to help people get into decent housing without taking on a burdensome debt.