Published: 11th September 2019
With the House Challenge Project, this Kerala woman built 120 houses for the homeless along with her students
We speak to Sr Lizzy Chakkalakal, the Principal of a public school who has build 120 homes for the homeless with the help of her students
Four years ago, Sr Lizzy Chakkalakal was on a routine visit to the homes of her students. She remembered having a life-changing thought when she discovered that one of her students from the coastal areas did not have a home at all for them to see. Her first instinct was not pity or concern, she simply decided she would do something about it. That’s how the House Challenge Project was initiated.
As the Principal of Our Lady’s Convent Girls Higher Secondary School, Thoppumpady, she started out by reaching out to people. She collected the necessary money to build a house from teachers, parents and students to construct a house for the homeless ward. When she successfully completed the project, she decided that she would keep the project running. This Onam, Sr Lizzy and her school have built more than 120 homes.
She lists two major reasons for doing the work that she does. “It was difficult to see my students going back to these homeless families. Some of my girls were living in a single room without any security. In the coastal areas, they are vulnerable to a thousand threats from alcohol induced abuse to physical assault. I wanted to change that no matter what it took.”
“But my second reason was a larger social vision,” she continues. “Kochi’s growth has been rapid and uneven. While metros are built on one side, the inner parts of the city are not just struggling to catch up, it is bearing the brunt of this quick change. A large inequality has grown in the city. So the idea was also to establish a sense of equality in the city because we cannot live in a place where we some of us live in luxury when families do not even have a roof over themselves.”
Her students are her strongest partners in the work that she does. In fact, the school has transformed over the past few years to accommodate the project. Over the past few years, ordinary life has come to a standstill at the institution, taken over by an immediacy when it comes to giving back. Students donate 1 rupee from their pocket money each day towards the cause. On birthdays, they forego celebrations and chocolates, instead using it for the same.
Sr Lizzy says, “Because we have been relentlessly working towards this issue, it has become a natural instinct in the students minds that they need to think about those among them that may not have a home. Simply by being a part of this programme, they have learnt a valuable lesson that they may carry with them for the rest of their lives.” The school’s motto is ‘Social change comes through education’. And the Principal has rebranded it with a new identity of a social school.
She does on to speak about the importance of a home. “It stitches together everything that matters in a students life. brick by brick. When you come from a broken home, quite literally, it defines a person. We can tell just by looking at them that they have a crucial element missing in their lives. It makes a huge difference to have a place to go back to. By building these homes, we are aiming at changing their very lives because anything else they achieve in their life needs to come from this foundation, a home.”
To Sr Lizzy, it is still quite simple, she wants none of the noise that comes with what she has done. In her words, she is simply the mediator of a much larger scheme. After word got out about the project, people from all over the state and every walk of life came in support of them. Chief among them have been former teachers, students, construction businesses such as Confident Group and Novelty Textiles, labourers who decided to pitch in and the sheer love and support of the general public who helped out by working with the group.
“The work we have done is simply a start,” she says, adding, “With the work we have done, we have proven that homes can be built quickly if you are determined enough. We have set the ball rolling for many others to do the same wherever they can.” With years of commitment and an unquestioning faith in their purpose, this school is changing lives and building hope, brick by brick.