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About a Shelter

The small hamlet of Karathittu lies nestled among coconut trees and cool green foliage by the Bay of Bengal backwaters. About 60 Irula tribal families inhabit this village. Being at close proximity to the ocean lay the hamlet open to the vagaries of disasters quite often. After the tsunami devastation, the government had built shelters for the inhabitants. However, about 18 of the extended families were staying in temporary, thatched shelters. They stood no chance against the 2015 floods and the 2016 cyclone.

22-year-old Nisha had almost lost hope after the floods of December 2015 wreaked its havoc. It worried her to look at her four-year-old son Surya and two-year-old Tarun, crowd under the makeshift shelter she and her husband, Karthik, had managed to prop up with the remnants of a tarpaulin and a few casuarina poles. Karthik’s desperate attempts to seek more work in fishing and agricultural labour were hardly successful, managing to bring in an insufficient amount of about Rs 2,000 per month to run the family. Further, they were largely left to fend for themselves.

When IGSSS started their intervention at Karathittu, it was unbelievable for Nisha, like it was for everyone else in his hamlet, to imagine that each of the 18 extended families, including them would receive Rs 27,000 in order to construct a shelter. It brought them all together to discuss how best this sum could be utilized to build a good shelter. Fortunately, three of them knew the basics of construction as they had worked as coolies (daily-wage labourers) in the field. They enquired with four to five hollow brick retailers to purchase the bricks and finally arrived at a neighbouring one. The price was the most reasonable here and the proximity helped in cutting transportation cost. Instead of purchasing bamboo for about Rs 5,000, the men got together and went to Sozhakkadu Village nearby to cut bamboo, using bullock cart to transport the poles. This, in all, cost them Rs 800. Several such cost-cutting moves and collaborative efforts led to the construction of beautiful, quaint cottages, well within the cost allotted to them. “Nobody has entrusted us with this kind of money. No agency has hand held us for this long through our hardships. We ensured that every penny given to us was well spent. We feel more secure and hopeful about our future,” says Nisha, echoing the sentiments of her fellow villagers.