Over the past five years, Sister Lizzy Chakkalakal has built over 100 houses for the homeless and underprivileged in Thoppumpady, Kerala. The principal of Our Lady’s Convent Girls Higher Secondary School, Sister Lizzy is a true inspiration and messiah for the masses.
In a conversation with Efforts For Good, Sister Lizzy shared how she achieved the impossible sheerly through widespread community integration and love for everyone.
No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank
How the first home happened
As per Sister Lizzy, the responsibility of a teacher is not restricted within the curriculum, textbooks and the four walls of the classroom. She always felt it was important to ensure that her students are having a healthy upbringing and wholesome education, even outside the school quarters.
“Ours is a girls’ school, and a lot of the students come from very humble backgrounds. It was my habit to regularly visit the girls’ homes and interact with their parents. I used to notice the hardships many of them were battling. Some did not even have a proper roof above their heads which they can call home,” she narrates her experience.
Around five years ago, she found out that Clara Bini, one of her 8th standard students was homeless. “She had recently lost her father, who was a mason. It was his dream to have a house of his own someday. His untimely death drove the family into extreme poverty. They were staying in a tiny, shabby room, sharing their kitchen with three other families,” Sister Lizzy reveals.
Moved by her distress, Sister Lizzy thought about building a house for her. Raising funds from the school teachers, students, neighbours and many other well-wishers, she succeeded in building a beautiful 600 sq. ft. home for the girl and her family. That was the beginning.
Support the cause you care for. Browse All Campaigns
It was the school’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations that year. To commemorate the event, a golden idea crossed Sister Lizzy’s mind. She decided to start the House Challenge Project, through which they would build houses for the homeless and helpless of the area. In five years, the number of completed homes stands at 100, while another five are under construction at present.
The amazing lady has also initiated Project Hope after the devastating floods in Kerala in 2018. “Within the ambit of this project, we have adopted 150 houses which were severely affected. Through fundraising and tireless efforts, we are currently renovating, repairing and in some cases also rebuilding these homes,” she informs.
The darker side of Kerala’s development
To an outsider, Kerala might seem to be a very developed state, which she indeed is, but in reality, there lies a darker side of this fact. “Food and clothing are not so scarce, but a shelter is. The living conditions for the poor and marginalised communities in Kochi are deteriorating day by day,” Sister Lizzy remarks.
She believes that the presence of decent living space is an utmost necessity, as it can have a drastic effect on a person’s mindset, especially for moulding a child’s personality. Poor standard of living is driving more and more adults into drug or alcohol addiction. The stark difference between the rich and the poor is painfully evident in the dingy alleys and dark, damp rooms. The people spend their days in despair while dreaming about owning a quaint, airy home with windows and yard one day.
So, does owning a house really have such a drastic effect on a person? The real-life stories shared by Sister Lizzy bear evidence.
“We had built a home for a mentally-challenged woman, who was widowed at a young age. She faced isolation from the in-laws, which slowly led her towards mental instability. It is almost impossible to believe that the same woman started going to work and sending her kids to school after she got her own home from us.”
Through the House Challenge Project, a former student of Sister Lizzy’s school has got a home. She is paralysed waist-down and faced a lot of harassment before her marriage. “Look at her now, all happy with her family in her new house, because we have customised an accessible home for her, with wheelchair ramps, improvised cooking facilities and everything,” she shares.
23-year-old Rahul is another beneficiary. Being a specially-abled person, his parents faced a lot of discrimination wherever they went. They were unable to stay peacefully in any rented home for more than a year or so and had to switch places frequently. Their joy knew no bounds when the key to a brand new home was handed over to them by Sister Lizzy.
The stories are endless. Among the other beneficiaries, there are as many as four cancer survivors, who have defeated the disease and restarted a happy life in their new homes. “We prioritise the most distressed and overlooked people in the society. From young widows to accident victims’ families, from differently-abled to the poorest of the poor, so many people have benefitted from the project,” she reveals.
Peace and happiness automatically percolated in many families after they got their new homes. Many quit drinking and other habitual addiction after settling in their new houses.
A compassionate community
“For every house that we built till date, we have received immense help from the local residents, businessmen and each and every member of the community. While some supplied with free building material, others offered free labour in construction. We could complete a perfect house within 5 lakh rupees, which would otherwise have cost no less than 15 lakhs. Without their contribution, this mammoth achievement would never have been a reality,” expresses Sister Lizzy.
Sister Lizzy clarifies that the capped expenditure does not translate to any compromise on the quality and amenities available in a house. All the houses are 2 BHK with a proper kitchen, washroom and other facilities. In fact, most of these houses were built disaster-resilient, so they incurred minimal damage during the floods. “It is due to the quality of the houses that people have complete faith in us. This is why they come forward with so much help,” Sister Lizzy asserts.
Women empowerment through building homes
“We speak about women empowerment and liberation. But, do you think our women get the respect they deserve? In small, sharing homes, they are always struggling to protect their modesty. There is no proper washroom or dressing room for them. Don’t our sisters deserve this much dignity? That is why we keep emphasising on the need for a proper home. A house can completely change a person from all aspects,” Sister Lizzy remarks.
Her aim is to build a society where nobody stays homeless. “It’s not about just handing over a house. It is a whole transformative process in itself, towards a better life,” she signs off.
Kerala is still recuperating from the 2018 floods that devastated the beautiful state. I Am For Alleppey, a social media initiative launched by Alleppey sub-collector Krishna Teja Mylaparavu, is rebuilding Alleppey, one of the worst-affected areas. The movement has rehabilitated over 40,000 people so far. Efforts For Good will be covering a series of stories to share the impact they created. In the first part, we will be detailing about their highly successful livestock rehabilitation programme. Keep reading this series for many heartwarming stories.
Donating pregnant cows to 133 families
‘Donate A Cattle’, ‘Donate A Goat’ and ‘Donate Poultry’ comprise the three categories of the Animal Donation initiative. Teja himself believes that livestock plays a vital role in rehabilitation. The dairy department went from door to door and identified 133 families who lost their cattle and other farm animals in the floods and have little source of income at present.
Next step was spreading the word. On the I Am For Alleppey Facebook page, Teja appealed to everyone for donating cattle to the helpless families. To his surprise, people from all over the country responded, expressing their will to stand beside them flood victims in the hour of need. So far, 86 cows have been donated, with proper insurance and free maintenance cost for a month.
“We did not want the people to wait for almost a year before they can start earning from the cow when it starts milking. So, we made sure to donate all pregnant cows. Most of them have given birth to offsprings by now, doubling the future earning resources for their owners,” Teja informs Efforts For Good.
Generating income for livestock traders
Dhyanasudan, who acts as the coordinator for ‘Donate A Cow’ informs, “The programme started from October 10, 2018. Most of the donors are from outside Kerala. Rural Development Society of Andhra Pradesh donated the most number of cows to 40 families, while other foundations and individuals have also contributed generously.” He adds, “The entire initiative has been efficiently spearheaded by Krishna Teja. His own family has donated around five cows.”
On an average, each cow is yielding around 15 litres of milk which in turn generates a sizeable income for the family at the end of the month. “It must be mentioned that we are procuring all the cows from different parts of Kerala itself, irrespective of whether the donation is coming from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh or Karnataka. In that way, we are generating revenue for the livestock traders in Kerala as well,” shares Teja.
‘Donate A Goat’ has benefitted the fishermen’s wives
The ‘Donate A Goat’ programme by I Am For Alleppey is exclusively dedicated for the wives of the Kerala fishermen, who made headlines for their brave rescue efforts during the floods. “Our aim was that when the fishermen venture out to the sea, their wives back home would have an extra source of income,” explains Teja. Around 150 goats, all three to four months old, have been donated to these women.
“After three or four months, we will send veterinary teams to inseminate the goats. The sooner the goats start milking, the more profitable it is for the women,” he adds.
The ‘Donate A Goat’ programme has been coordinated by Father Xavier, the director of Alleppey Diocesan Society – the foundation which donated all 150 goats. “The women were overjoyed after receiving the goats. Though it will take some time before the profits start flowing in, for us it was greatly rewarding just to see the smiles on their faces,” he shares.
Incidentally, the Alleppey Diocesan Society operated an emergency community radio during the floods which helped the fishermen hugely in locating and rescuing stranded residents. They had also arranged for nearly a thousand boats for the fishermen during the rescue operations.
Donate Poultry – for the worst-affected families
Thanks to the ‘Donate Poultry’ segment, new poultry sheds with fresh flocks of hens can be found again in rural homes of Alleppey. “Each poultry shed that we donated can accommodate up to 10-15 hens. We are giving out the high profit-yielding BV 380 breed of hens, each of which has the egg-laying capacity of 300 per annum,” Teja informs.
He continues to explain the detailed breakdown of the monthly revenue, which is estimated at around Rs 2000. “The most underprivileged families are the main beneficiaries of the poultry donation scheme. We sincerely hope it offers them a big help in rehabilitation,” he asserts.
Families with dilapidated homes and fragile dreams found hope anew after receiving the cows, goats or poultry from donors all over India. While appealing to our readers to donate a cattle, Teja wishes to clarify that I Am For Alleppey is a collective people’s movement, but they are not involved in any direct monetary transaction. The donors can directly contribute to the beneficiary families.
Efforts For Good will continue to cover the excellent efforts by I Am For Alleppey in many other domains like women and child rehabilitation, healthcare, senior and differently-abled care, fishermen rehabilitation and many more. Keep reading this series for more such heartwarming stories.