Published: 15th September 2021
This principal-cum-nun has taken on the task of providing quality shelter for the needy. Here's her story
Sister Lizzy Chakkalakal talks about how she began the House Challenge and the fruitful result it has brought to dozens of households
When it comes to noble tasks, there are not too many greater than building a home for the needy. And if you think building one house is worth appreciating, then how about 150? This has been the work of Sister Lizzy Chakkalakal, the principal at Our Lady's Convent Girls Higher Secondary School in Thoppumpady, Kochi. She has been at the forefront of the House Challenge, initiated back in 2014. "The motto of our management is 'Education for Social Transformation'. To achieve social transformation, we need to realise the integral development of every child. At our school, we visit the house of every child to understand the social circumstances that they come from. At first I was shocked to find that some students come from really dilapidated households. In fact, it is not surprising to find that such kids have a certain inferiority complex due to their humble backgrounds. That is when I first thought of doing something like the House Challenge," says Sister Lizzy when asked about how the initiative began.
She remembers how people at Our Lady's Convent school wanted to celebrate the platinum jubilee of their establishment. "We did not want to have a conventional celebration with the decked-up festivities and everything. Instead we wanted to do something like a communal service that would create a lasting impression amongst the people. We finally planned to build at least one house for one of the kids." Speaking about the difficulty in choosing the person for whom to build the house, she says, "We had over 2,500 students so we were spoilt for choices in deciding the suitable student. We then came to know that one of our students' father had died in the process of building a house for his family. We thought that this would be the ideal place to kickstart our project." And that was the beginning.
The initial days, however, were not easy as Sister Lizzy recollects, "I literally used to go to different shops and beg them for financial aid for the project. Some of them would spare materials needed to construct the houses. Our students also contributed in their own unique ways. They would donate money from their pocket money. During birthdays, instead of buying sweets for everyone, they would put that money as donation towards the project. Soon, it became a big thing and our school community joined in as well. Retired teachers and parents made it like a movement. Then, the media took it further and we got the coverage we needed. Even political personnel like the local MLA and collector supported us. More than money, our donors contributed essential materials as well as spared labour for our purpose. So we have had good support since our tough beginnings."
Emphasising on the quality of service that they provide, Sister Lizzy mentions, "We never compromise on the quality of materials used for the houses. Poor people cannot afford the regular maintenance of their house from time to time. So, what we build is meant to last forever. We ensure that for every house we construct." The importance of the support of her peers and children is not lost on Sister Lizzy. "I have had the trust of our teachers, students and their parents throughout this time. That has managed to keep me going till now and hopefully beyond as well."