Thirteen year old Hilmiya, studies in Grade 8 but she had not gone to school that day. She was all poised and ready to meet the photographers. Born in the Mujahadeen Puram IDP (Internally Displaced People) camp, her parents were among the many who walked through the Wilpattu National Park seeking refugee in Puttalam in the 1990’s.
At present there are over 60,000 people living in 141 refugee camps with 41 percent being children like Hilmiya who have known no other home than these camps. It was a quiet balmy morning. The heat would come in later as the sun rises. The children played in the gardens, women were bringing in water.
Water is a scarce resource in Puttalam, located in the dry zone and known for its saltpans. Men have found work in the saltpans, fishing and the refugees have integrated well with the host communities. Women as the primary care givers have the responsibilty of fetching water from a nearby pond for washing and cooking. Here 22 year old Jasmina balances two metal pots elegantly – one on the head and one on the hip as she carries water back to her home perfectly poised. Something a New York model would give her eye teeth for.
Many IDP families own land in this village but they needed support to build houses or complete building the houses that thyue had started. Often we saw new houses coming up right next to the old wattle and mud small one bedroom and kitchen temporary shelters they had been living in.
The World Bank supported Puttalam Housing Project aims to reconstruct 7,885 houses through the transfer of cash grants. Eligible households would be entitled to one of two cash grants of Rs.250,000 (US$2,300) to help construct a permanent house or a grant of Rs.100,000 (US$900) to complete a partly-built house.
A builder on the roof catches a hammer thrown by a co-worker.
Women like Jasmina will welcome the safe drinking water provision that is on the way. The World Bank supported Puttalam Housing Project will benefit 136 refugee camps and over 3000 non-IDPs families in Puttalam. Construction of nearly 10,000 latrines will be undertaken while providing protection to the ground water aquifer ensuring improvement in overall sanitation.
The soot filled tiny kitchen will hopefully be a thing of the past for Hasmina and her mother Saheeda Umma.
Mujahadeen Puram has a Village Rehabilitation Committee (VRC) and has as its secretary a retired teacher M.M. Mustapha. Another one of the 1990 first wave of refugees. The VRC also runs the Information Center where information is shared and there are procedures set to address grievances.
More snapshots: Waiting for good times…
Text and photos©Chulie de Silva