Building better homes and lives for Sri Lanka’s tea estate workers

Publicado: 17 agosto 2016 3:17 CET

By Mahieash Johnney, Sri Lanka Red Cross @mahieash

Living in a small, cramped space and sharing public facilities like water, electricity and the toilet with 12 to 15 other families is the  norm for Ganeshan.

“We have been living this way since  I was born,” explains the 28-year-old tea estate worker from Bogawantalawa, in the hills of central Sri Lanka.

Life will soon change for Ganeshan and his family, who will receive a brand new home under a housing project run by the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society. The project is supported by the International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and funded by the Government of India.

As part of the Red Cross’ attempt to alleviate poverty across Sri Lanka and support marginalized and vulnerable communities, over 1,500 houses will be constructed in the estate sector under an ‘owner-driven’ construction model where each household contributes their time and labour to building their new home, which is funded by a cash grant of 950,000 LKR (6,535 USD) provided by the Red Cross in phased instalments. Each house will have two rooms, a living room, a kitchen and a toilet constructed within an area of 550 square feet. Each beneficiary will also receive 175 square meters of land in order to build the house along with electricity and water connections.

Sri Lanka’s current estate population are descendants of laborers brought into the country up until the 1940s. The country’s success as a lead exporter of tea in the 1960s and 1970s ensured the continuation of the industry, yet the benefits for its workers have remained low.

"What we have seen is that despite considerable growth in the estate sector, workers continue to live in appalling and deplorable conditions. This is unacceptable," says Jagath Abeysinghe, President of Sri Lanka Red Cross Society. "This is one of the many reasons we wanted to be part of this housing project for the estate sector."

At a recent community meeting with estate workers in Bridwell Division in Bogawanthalawa, Red Cross staff explained the mechanics of the construction process and how communities will be supported to build their homes successfully.

"We are motivated to do more for these people," says Igor Dmitryuk, IFRC Head of Country Office in Sri Lanka, who recently toured Bogawanthalawa where the Red Cross is beginning its project. They are one of the most vulnerable communities in the country and this project will certainly enhance their quality of life and  living standards."

“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.

The project uses the same approach as the Northern Housing Project, under which the Sri Lanka Red Cross constructed 21,000 houses for post-conflict returnees.