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(Kalutara, 19th November, 2016): The challenges of poverty housing and homelessness are faced by thousands of Sri Lankans every day. With a number of families living below the national poverty line (LKR 4,064 in October 2016) decent housing is a luxury that is unaffordable to many. The psychological and general health impacts of not having a home or of living in a cramped space without basic amenities, are far reaching. In the hopes of addressing the prevailing housing dilemma, Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka actively works to enable Sri Lankans living in such conditions to have access to the basic needs that stem from a house – security and shelter.

‘BuildHerUp’ was a campaign launched by Habitat Sri Lanka parallel to International Women’s Day this year, with the aim of raising funds to provide vulnerable women and girls with access to permanent shelter and adequate sanitation facilities. This online campaign was launched on 8th March 2016 and supported by Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka’s Brand Ambassador, Ms. Pooja Umashankar. Highlighting the need for adequate shelter Pooja Umashankar said “About one in four people across the globe currently live in conditions that harm their health, safety and other opportunities such as education and work. This is heart-breaking – and we have the potential to change it”.

The first beneficiary of the campaign is Mrs. Fernando (28), a widow and single-mother to a three year old son. Mrs. Fernando’s story is one that is moving at the same time empowering. After her husband retired from the armed forces in 2011, he subsequently met with a tragic accident and was killed while tending to his livelihood. Mrs. Fernando who was twenty five and unemployed at the time, became a single-mother with an infant to care for, no income and no permanent place to call home. Mother and child lived in a temporary wooden structure with no security from adverse weather conditions and intruders and little privacy. Through the ‘BuildHerUp’ campaign Mrs. Fernando and her young son will receive support to construct a 550 square-foot house with two bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen.

Volunteering to help with construction, Ms. Pooja Umashankar and her team of youth volunteers spent their Saturday morning working to build Mrs. Fernando’s home. The volunteers worked to fill the foundation of the house with earth and laid the concrete bricks of the walls. “It’s been a fulfilling experience to contribute our time and money to build a house for someone in need”, says Kavisha Peiris, youth volunteer who had always wanted to find a way to give back to the community and thought this volunteer build was the perfect opportunity to do so.

Mrs. Fernando never expected that volunteers from across the country would come to her village and support her to build her house. “It feels like a dream,” she said. “I cannot describe how happy I am to receive a new home from Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka. After I lost my husband, I didn’t think I would ever be able to provide for my son. But now all my hopes are fulfilled and we finally have a place to call home.” Mrs. Fernando has recently found employment as a sales assistant in town and looks forward to living in her new home with her son and her parents.

“We see the distinct role decent housing plays in helping our homeowners gain the stability, dignity and independence they need to build better futures,” said Dr. Dinesh Kanagaratnam, National Director, Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka. “We are looking to build homes that give families not only a place of identity but a sense of belonging, leading to their well-being. We are grateful to our donors, volunteers and advocates, whose support make the provision of affordable housing in Sri Lanka possible.”

Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka’s vision is a country where everyone has a decent, safe and secure home to call their own. Permanent, safe and secure housing is key to breaking the cycle of poverty. It also brings about a change in mindset of the homeowners, building hope and acting as the foundation that dreams and ambitions are created on.

The organisation looks forward to supporting and empowering many more women and young girls through the BuildHerUp campaign in the future. Habitat for Humanity Sri Lanka invites the public to partner with them to help make that vision a reality through volunteering, sponsoring a home or a component of a home and raising awareness of the need for adequate shelter in the country.