Building an island of homes with Hearts

18 November, Edachira, Alappad

On a small island about 4km north of Amritapuri, the Ashram is building 28 new Tsunami homes.  The island, known as Edachira, has no roads and is accessible only by boat.   This has proven to be a unique challenge for the villagers, Amrita University students, volunteers, and Ashramites who have been participating in the daily ‘Brick Seva.’

View of the ashram from edachira

First, all the construction materials – bricks, gravel, sand, etc… are brought to the edge of the backwaters along the mainland.   Then, everything is loaded into boats and transported to the island which is approximately 50 yards away.   During low tide, the boats, heavy with materials, are unable to come right up to the shoreline.  The volunteers must then go knee-deep into the waters to pass the materials to shore.  Once unloaded, the materials must still be transported to the actual construction sites.



Sri Lanka updates

11 November 2005, Sri Lanka

Construction of Tsunami homes is progressing in the Eastern (Tamil) and Western (Sinhalese) Districts in Sri Lanka. The homes are being built according to government specifications. Each three story structure will have 12 apartments – four on each floor.

Stone laid for houses in Kalmunai

17 October 2005, Kalmunai, Sri Lanka

Today morning, the foundation stone was laid for the construction of 60 houses in Periyanilavanai in the Kalmunai division of Ampara District, Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. As per the Govt. of Sri Lanka’s guidelines, the Math is building 3 story homes, each with a total of 530 square feet.

The event was attended by Mr.N. Pathmanathan, Member of Parliament, Ampara. He spoke of his appreciation for the care and concern that Amma has shown towards the tsunami affected people of Sri Lanka.

He noted that in February, out of her compassion, Amma had traveled all the way from India to Sri Lanka, visiting many refugee camps in different parts of the country, and consoling thousands. Amma is now building permanent houses for these affected people.

Mr. Herath Abeyaweera, District Collector, Ampara, also spoke at the event. He lauded the Math for building houses for the people who were made homeless by the tsunami.

Mr. U. L. A. Azeez, Additional Collector, noted that NGO’s like the Mata Amritanandamayi Math are doing a great service for the people of Sri Lanka by providing relief and rehabilitation for the affected. He stated that the Periyanilavanai region was one of the worst affected by the tsunami and that building houses for the people of this area is a very great service.

Mr. Vasudevan, Divisional Secretary, Kalmunai, also praised the services of the Math and assured that he would provide all the necessary help for the speedy completion of the project.

Br. Vinayamrita Chaitanya further spoke about Amma and the disaster relief activities of the Math all over the world, including relief efforts taking place in the US by Amma’s devotees in response to Hurricane Katrina.

88 houses in Cuddalore handed over to recipients

4 September 2005 — Pudukuppam, Cuddalore District, Tamil Nadu

Today Swami Ramakrishnananda handed over the keys to 88 new homes to the government official, who, in turn, presented the keys to the happy recipients of new homes built by the Ashram in the village of Pudukuppam. These homes are the first to be completed by any organization in Tamil Nadu, despite the fact that the Ashram was only allotted the land by the government a short three months back (news).

In addition to the actual houses, the Ashram also built roads, a community hall and a drainage system.  The Ashram has also undertaken the renovation and expansion of the primary school that was already present at the site. Transforming it from an elementary school that only went up to the fourth grade, to a full 10-standard high school.

This village was the worst-hit in Cuddalore District, with 123 deaths caused by the tsunami.

The Ashram is also nearing completion of another 27 houses at Sambasivapuram in Kanyakumari and the work for construction of 350 houses in the severely battered Nagapattinam District is going on full swing.


First 25 Tsunami homes finished in Kanyakumari

28 August 2005 — Parapattru, Kalkulam Taluk, Kanyakumari District, Tamil Nadu

The Ashram has finished the construction of 25 homes for tsunami-affected families in Kanyakumari, the second-most devastated area in India. The houses will be inaugurated and the residents will move in around 9 September.

The homes are in Parapattru, a village near Mandakkadu, in the Kalkulam Taluk. The 360-square-foot houses comprise one bedroom, a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom, a veranda, and a staircase leading to the roof, where shelter can be taken in case of future flooding.

The villagers who will soon be calling the new houses home hail from an area three kilometres away. But as their previous houses—which were all destroyed by the massive waves—were directly on the beach, the government has relocated them to Parappattru, which is a half a kilometre inland. At least three people from the 25 families were killed during the tsunami.

Construction on the homes began on 6 July, and the Ashram was able to finish in two month’s time—despite the monsoon. “We worked in rain or shine,” said one of the brahmacharis who worked on the construction. The Ashram has also constructed a main road for the houses, dug a bore-well and installed water tanks. The Ashram’s were the first tsunami-relief homes to be completed in Kanyakumari.

In all, the Ashram is building 100 houses in the Kanyakumari District. With the first phase of 25 homes now finished, it will begin the second 25, in Kolachal, imminently.


All 150 houses in Alappuzha completed

26 August 2005 — Alappuzha District, Kerala

The Ashram has finished the construction of all the houses it is building for tsunami victims in the Alappuzha District of Kerala. Next week, the Ashram will hand over the completed houses to the government, and they, in turn, will distribute them to the recipients. The Ashram has built 150 houses in Alappuzha, which is just to the north of the Amritapuri. The Ashram handed over the first 88 of these houses in June, and now the remaining 62 have been completed. Of this final batch, 58 houses have two storeys; the recipients were given the choice of having one or two floors.


Brick by brick- rebuilding houses for tsunami victims

19 August 2005 — Vellannathuruthu, Alappad Panchayat, Kollam District, Kerala

As the morning sun finds its way through the canopy of coconut trees that shade Vellannathuruthu, a group of Amma’s devotees and disciples plods back and forth along one of the seaside village’s dirt pathways carrying loads of bricks—mostly upon their heads.

It’s hard work. But the men, women—and occasional child—work steadily and without complaint in an effort to complete as quickly as possible the 1,400 houses the Ashram is constructing in Alappad Panchayat as part of its tsunami-rehabilitation programme.

The construction has been going on for the past couple of months, and with 1,360 foundations already complete, the work currently at hand is erecting the brick walls.

Carrying bricks

The problem is that the interior locations of Alappad Panchayat are accessible almost exclusively via various cramped and winding dirt pathways—pathways that often pregnant cows have trouble negotiating, not to mention lorries carrying a several tonnes of bricks. To make matters more difficult, the monsoon season has rendered the land very muddy, and small ponds are now overflowing, often submerging the paths altogether. Therefore the lorries have unloaded the bricks in central locations throughout the panchayat, and the ashramites are spending their mornings schlepping them from point A to point B, over and over again.

To be frank, at the end of a four-hour shift, the men and women look quite warn out, but spirits remain high, as their motivation lies in helping families that have been homeless for eight months return to normalcy. “When I first saw the images of the tsunami on television from Europe, I felt so sad that I couldn’t be there to help in person,” says Ed De Wilde, a 54-year old Belgium man who is currently visiting Amritapuri with his family. “I gave a donation, but it wasn’t the same thing as being there to help in person. So now I am happy that I can be here and really help the tsunami victims.”

Most of the Westerners still prefer to carry the bricks with their arms, either cradling a stack in front of their body as they walk or filling up a large burlap rice sack and slinging it over their back. But a few have taken to the traditional Indian method—filing a basket with seven or eight bricks and carrying it on top of their head. One Westerner when asked how he felt after using the Indian method for several hours joked, “About three inches shorter.”

Using a wooden board as a platform, some of the brahmacharis regularly make trips with as many as 16 bricks piled up in this fashion. Adding to this a nice wade through knee-deep water can make each trip a real exercise in mindfulness. But according to ashram history, 16 bricks is nothing. When Amma’s first batch of brahmacharis were constructing the Amritapuri temple, one of the current sannyasins set the Ashram record, carrying 45 bricks atop his head.

The brick seva will most likely continue for several more months. With each house requiring 13,000 bricks, it means that there are 18.2 million bricks to be moved about in all. But this figure in no way daunts Amma’s workforce. “We are not doing anything,” says one of the senior brahmacharis helping with the work. “Amma is doing everything, so what is there to worry about.”



88 Houses completed in Cuddalore

16 August 2005 — Pudukuppam, Cuddalore District, Tamil Nadu

On 25 August 2005, the Ashram will hand over the 88 houses it is building in Pudukuppam, Cuddalore District, Tamil Nadu. The houses will be the first tsunami-reconstruction houses to be finished in Tamil Nadu State. This will make the Ashram the first organisation to finish tsunami relief houses according to government specifications in both Kerala and in Tamil Nadu. Ashram started the construction in Pudukuppam on 25 June.

The Ashram has almost completed the 150 houses it is building in Alappuzha District, Kerala. They should be finished around the 23rd of August.

In Alappad Panchayat, Kollam District, Kerala, the foundation and pilings for 1,360 houses [out of 1400 allocated thus far] have been completed. 300 of those houses have been concreted, 250 are finished except for the painting, and 100 are entirely finished, including the painting.

In Alappad Panchayat, the Ashram is also building 18 houses in an area known as Kozhikode, Ayanivelikulangara. These are houses that were originally located on the strip of land between the beach and the Beach Road. Of these, 15 houses have thus far been concreted, and three have complete foundations.

Construction of houses at Samanthampettai, Nagapattinam

13 July 2005 — Samanthampettai, Nagapattinam District, Tamil Nadu

Construction of houses for the tsunami victims is progressing at a brisk pace in Samanthampettai, Nagapattinam District. The government of Tamil Nadu initially allotted seven acres of land for the Ashram to build houses upon. Here the Ashram is building a self-sufficient colony consisting of , community hall, a day-care centre, roads, water supplies, a playground and a market area.

Isolated column footing work for 130 houses is complete. Concrete work for 35 houses is complete. More 500 people are working for the construction. This includes 40 carpenters who fabricate 50 to 70 doors and windows daily. Water for mixing concrete is brought in tankers from a place eight kilometres away. Sand is also transported from a spot more than 70 kilometres away. Metal is brought from an area nearly 190 kilometres away. Two concrete mixing machines and machines for making hollow bricks have been installed. A full-fledged kitchen is functional on site providing three meals a day for the workers. Drinking water has also been made available using hand pumps.

The president of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, visited the Samanthampettai construction site in Nagapattinam on 30 June 2005. He expressed his happiness at the progress of work and complemented the efforts of the Ashram.

Incidentally, the Ashram is the only organisation to start tsunami-relief housing construction in Nagapattinam.


Construction of houses at Pudukuppam, Cuddalore

12 July 2005 — Pudukkuppam, Cuddalore District, Tamil Nadu

The Tamil Nadu Government had allotted three acres of land for the rehabilitation of tsunami victims in Pudukuppam, Cuddalore. Ashram is building a total of 88 houses in this village and another 14 of which are in the properties of the recipients. This village witnessed the highest number deaths in the Cuddalore district. 101 lives were lost from 350 families at Pudukuppam. In addition to the houses, the colony will also have a community center and day-care centre.

Construction is progressing well since the foundation stone for the houses was laid on 20 May. Isolated column footing work for all the houses is complete. Concrete work for 72 of the houses in the site is complete. More than 400 people are working at the construction site. Bricks necessary for the construction are made at the site. A team of workers produce as many as 2,500 bricks a day. The site also houses machines for carpentry and steel work.

Work starts as early as six in the morning. The workers take a break at 11 a.m. since the temperature during daytime is very high. The temperature may even rise up to 45 degree celsius. After tea, the work resumes at four in the evening again and goes on till 12 at night.

Food for the workers is cooked and served at the Ashram kitchen situated at the construction site. Using hand pumps, pure water for drinking and construction is taken from a depth of three meters.

Houses at Pudukuppam, Cudallore are getting ready: Photos