On International Women’s Day 2019, we gear up to celebrate women in all walks of life. At such a juncture, Efforts For Good aims to highlight some incredible women achievers, who are uplifting marginalised communities and the lesser privileged gender, away from all the limelight.
In our last article of the series, we bring you the story of Sister Lizzy Chakkalakal from Kerala. Over the past five years, she has built over 100 houses for the homeless and underprivileged in Thoppumpady. 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.
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.
The journey for the next five years
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.
From young widows to cancer survivors
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.