The difference a home makes
From Sri Lanka
Three stories from three different people, who are finding their way to a normal life in Sri Lanka.
By Senada Cesic
Tavaraja Nirmala lives with her mother in Puthukkudiyiruppu West, Sri Lanka close to the main junction of the town, which was almost completed destroyed by shelling in 2009.
Her husband and son live in London, but she has had no contact with them for several years. Tavaraja lived with a host family in Vavuniya after being displaced in 2009, but ended up living together with her mother again in a relative’s house, while they waited for the time when the government would give permission for people to return to Puthukkudiyiruppu. When the area was finally opened for return in 2012, Tavaraja and her mother were happy to return home:
“It is better being on my own land than living on someone else’s. My mother is lonely and being back here is comforting to her,” Tavaraja said.
Before 2009, Tavaraja says the family was rich, and they were planning to build a permanent house and a large well. As a first priority the family had already constructed a permanent toilet made of concrete and blocks. But when the fighting escalated in 2009, they had to flee. The toilet, of which they were so proud, was completely destroyed by shelling.
They had to abandon their tractor during their flight towards Mullivaikkal during the last days of the conflict. It was then that her two brothers were killed, leaving her and her mother alone and without any means to generate income. Now she says that her family is all missing. All their belongings and machines were stolen after the war, and the two women now survive off the mother’s small pension each month.
DRC finished construction of her ECHO transitional shelter in July 2013. Tavaraja says that the shelter is a great relief. They have converted their previous self-built hut into a kitchen, and she and her mother are comfortable in their new home. She says that she is lucky that her new house is strong and will protect them from the floods and the snakes and insects. The doors and windows can be locked so now they can go to the market without worrying they will be robbed.
Mother and daughter have excavated their original pit for a toilet, surrounding it with torn tarpaulins held up by thin sticks to maintain some privacy. But local authorities say it is located too close to the well and has to be moved or it will be demolished. For a while the two women went to the nearby jungle for their toilet needs, but felt unsafe and began using the pit again, in spite the risk of polluting their water source.
Despite their financial difficulties, Tavaraja offered to help excavate the pit of the semi-permanent latrine that is currently under construction by DRC. Together, with the shelter provided by DRC and ECHO, and the new toilet given by DRC, she now feels able to move forward and to think about earning income.
Logeswaran Ketheswaran lives in Kaively, with his wife, two young daughters (aged 7 and 8) and baby. As with many people in the area, he was displaced from Jaffna in 1995. He earned a sufficient income from the fruits and vegetables he cultivated in his garden in order to construct a concrete and brick house by hand for his young family after he married in 2006.
When the conflict escalated in 2009, he was fleeing towards Mullivaikkal with his family, when he was seriously injured by shelling in Manthuvil. He lost both hands, one eye and received several other injuries all over his body. Despite being badly injured, they reached the coast and his wife took him to Trincomalee by ship. That saved his life.
After recovering, the military put them in Samanagama camp in Trincomalee, where they stayed until 2012. When Kaively was opened for return, he moved back to his former village, although his house had been mostly destroyed in the meantime. He was provided with a ZOA “rainy shelter”, consisting of a simple A-frame timber and cadjan structure to protect against the heat and rain, but it was in poor condition and unsafe, especially as the family kept seeing snakes nearby.
During DRC’s assessment his wife was pregnant again, and as they are a growing family with a disabled family member, they were prioritized for ECHO Transitional Shelter. The shelter was finished in August 2013, and since then Logeswaran has, despite his lack of hands, used the material from his first “rainy shelter” to extend the shelter with a covered terrace and an outdoor kitchen.
As she already lost her parents during her childhood, Selvakumar was living with her uncle’s family in Mullivaikkal East, until she married her husband, who is from Vadduvakal, and moved there. In 2008 they were displaced to Mullivaikkal by war in Vadduvakal, and then were displaced again in 2009 to Menik Farm Kathirkaamar camp. During this time, her husband left her with their three children, and they were resettled by the government in Thimpily model village in 2011.
They returned to their own land in Mullivaikkal in 2013 and were living in a tarpaulin hut, where Suseela is the main breadwinner of the family with her dry fish business, which covers their day-to-day expenses and her children’s studies.