Happy and proud, the Maniratnan family* stands in front of their new home. Even the garden is already done, the beet plants surrounded by small stones. Today, Mr. Marinatnan, his wife and five children can celebrate the completion of their new house. Today, at least, the family can forget the difficult times that lie behind them and their worries about the future.
The Maniratnan family is one of thousands forced to leave their home during the 30-year civil conflict in northern Sri Lanka, and who were allowed to return to their village in Killinochchi District as part of a resettlement process in the fall of 2009. “Our house was completely destroyed – everything was gone”, Mr. Marinatnan tells. “We had no water and no food. The war took all we had from us”. Mr. Marinatnan lost a foot by stepping on a landmine, so he had great difficulty in finding a job. The only thing the family had left was a piece of land, where their new house now stands.
But for all their misfortune, the Maniratnan family was not completely out of luck. On behalf of Malteser International, workers of the Sri Lankan organisation Sarvoday selected the families who were most in need in Killinochchi as well as two neighbouring districts, Jaffna and Mullaitivu. “Our goal was to improve the daily lives of the returning families”, says Wolfgang Köllisch, Malteser International’s coordinator for partner projects in Sri Lanka. As an engineer and architect, Köllisch is responsible for the reconstruction of houses, health care centres, latrines and wells in northern Sri Lanka.
And so the Maniratnan family was selected to receive a new house. But, in the beginning, not everything went according to plan. “Together with our partners from Sarvodaya, I go around each week checking on the execution of the ground plans and the excavation and construction work”, Köllisch says. “But as I came here six weeks ago, I found out that the Maniratnans’ land had been abandoned and the construction work stopped”. A “Punjari”, a Hindu priest, had visited the construction site in order to calculate which were the best days for the excavation and to lay the cornerstone. Afterwards, the priest continued coming back to offers his calculations, and even created a new schedule for each phase of the construction project. “Our construction workers had to go home – the day wasn’t right. No excavation, no cornerstone, no progress. We had to be patient”.
One week later, as the teams from Malteser International and Sarvodaya went back to the site, there was reason to celebrate: the day was ideal for the laying of the cornerstone – the house and the family would be blessed with good luck. To represent their Christian beliefs, the Maniratnans also put up a cross on the construction site. “We all participated in the ceremony”, Köllisch says. “We were given colourful flower garlands and oil candles were lit up”. Afterwards, the construction work could begin. A handicapped access to the bathroom and even a small home altar were included in the building plans.
Since fall of 2010, Malteser International and Sarvodaya have rebuilt a total of 205 homes with latrines. They have also rebuilt and refurbished three health care centres and trained their health staff. 170 renovated wells provide the families in the region with a sustainable water supply. Through awareness campaigns, they taught the population how to handle food and water responsibly, and how to avoid diseases with hygienic practices. 203 families were trained in animal farming and improved agricultural methods; they received animals and birds as well as pumps to water their fields and fishing equipment.
The Maniratnan family will also grow fruits and vegetables in their new garden – whatever they do not consume themselves, they will be able to sell at their local market. Unfortunately, that would not be enough to secure their income, since Mr. Maniratnan does not work. So, to make sure the family can make a steady living, Mrs. Maniratnan received a sewing machine. “I am going to set up a small sewing room in our house and sew school uniforms and other clothing to sell”, she tells. “Now, thanks to Sarvodaya and Malteser International, we have not only a new home, but we also do not have to struggle every day to put food on the table. Our house has indeed been blessed with good fortune!”.
* Names have been changed
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