Habitat Homes Transform Lives For 100 Informal Settler Families In New Delhi Colony

HFH India Home Partners’ New Houses Provide Security, Comfort And Better Study Environment

NEW DELHI, 27th May 2010: More than a year after Habitat for Humanity completed 100 homes in the Balashwa resettlement colony in northern India, families are thankful for their new lease of life. These families used to live in informal settlements along the banks of Yamuna River in the capital New Delhi.

Shelters such as the top and above are a common sight in the Balashwa colony.

Many of the families in Balashwa go through the garbage at a nearby rubbish dump to look for recyclable items that can be sold.

Shariff (far right), with her daughter Rumpa Khatun, son Sheikh Muzibur Rahman and husband Sheikh Shah Alam, is thankful for their Habitat house where they can sleep easy.

Tarachand (far right) with her two sons Gavtan and Vishal and daughter Deepa. She appreciates the improvements in health and her children’s studies since they moved into their Habitat house.

The Balashwa project began in September 2008 and was completed in December 2009. HFH India’s resource center in New Delhi joined hands with local non-profit organization Chetanalaya, its partner in a project in another Delhi resettlement colony Bawana.

A social development wing of the Catholic Archdiocese of Delhi, Chetanalaya has been working in the slums and resettlement colonies of Delhi and the northern Haryana state during the past 40 years. In the course of its work, Chetanalaya has reached out to more than 1.5 million people through community development, literacy, housing, microfinance and women self-help group initiatives, among others. Chetanalaya organizes more than 1,200 self-help groups comprising mostly women, of which about 92 groups are in Balashwa.

The Habitat home partners in Balashwa were among some 2,000 families who were relocated to the colony, about 30 kilometers northwest of the capital New Delhi. The colony was set up in November 2000 following massive relocation of informal settlers as part the government’s plan to clean up the Yamuna River.

The 1,380-kilometer-long Yamuna River runs from the Himalayas in the northern state of Uttarakhand into the Ganges river in Uttar Pradesh state in the north. According to New Delhi-based non-profit organization Centre for Science and Environment, about 80 percent of the pollution in Yamuna River is caused by raw sewerage.

In Balashwa, a family is allocated a plot of 14 sq. m. or just over 20 sq. m. by the government at an average cost of 7,000 rupees (nearly US150). For most of the families who are migrant daily wage laborers from other Indian states, the cost of housing was prohibitive.

Families could only afford to build simple shelters using discarded materials, bamboo poles, plastic sheets and metal wire. However, these shelters often become flooded during the annual monsoon season. The families also grappled with a lack of access to adequate water and sanitation facilities, electricity and education.

While the Habitat home partners now have a permanent, secure home to call their own, their neighbors are less fortunate. Across the mud track from the house of Habitat home partner Shariff was a group of children standing next to a shelter held up by wooden poles and dust-covered plastic sheets. There were no windows and a rope went around the shelter to prevent it from falling apart.

Thirty-two-year-old Shariff said: “We lived like that for nearly six years. It is still hard for me to believe that we now have this new home and no longer need to worry about the rain water coming into the house or the muddy dirt floor.

“It was hard to sleep in the old house. We all slept on mats on the floor which was often muddy in the rainy season.”

Now, Shariff can sleep easy in her new home with her husband Sheikh Shah Alam, 36, son Sheikh Muzibur Rahman, 16, and daughter, Rumpa Khatun, 12. Shariff collects garbage for recycling while her husband is a daily wage laborer.

“It feels so good to have this house now. The attitude of the people in the neighborhood has changed toward us. We do not need to feel ashamed any more. Even our relatives like to visit us now,” said Shariff who moved into her house in January 2009.

Given the space constraints, Habitat’s house design involved building a large room on the ground level as living space for the family. A narrow stairway is constructed by the side of the house to provide access to the roof where a toilet is built. Several families have gone on to build an additional room at a corner of the roof using their own resources. Tarachand, for example, added a 15-square-meter guest room at the top of her house’s roof.

Twenty-eight-year-old Tarachand identified with Shariff’s experience. “We lived in a plastic sheet house for six years, with no door or windows. We never felt secure in there. I was afraid for the children after we were robbed one day while we were away,” said Tarachand.

“There was no toilet in our old house so we had to walk to the public toilets over a hundred meters away. Late at night it was dangerous for us to walk in the darkness and stand in line for our turn to use the toilets. Now with our own toilet and wash room we feel much safer than before.”

Tarachand lives in a Habitat house with her husband Kamlesh, a 35-year-old tailor, two sons Vishal, 10 and Gavtan, 5, and daughter Deepa, 6. Their children attend a school near their Habitat home.

“We are healthier and the children are doing better in their school work. Before it was hard for them to study at night because there was little room for them to do their homework,” Tarachand said.

“We are very happy…We feel proud to have our own house that is clean and safe and for this we are very grateful,” she added.