Project Suitcase- A response to housing needs of the urban homeless

Our observations and surveys helped us in deriving concepts of housing which would address to the needs of the urban homeless. How do we cater to their  ever-shifting, ever-changing dynamic lifestyle? What would be the apt material to build a temporary shelter? Could they move along with it? Could it mould itself according to the users need?

Our quest for an impact full solution led us to market research and prototyping various designs and material options, testing them for structural stability, climate and user response.We now started working on our first prototype.Throughout this process we focused on the fact that the unit had to be  assemble-able by home owner or any unskilled labour, within a short span of time and the materials used for the unit should be economical and easily accessible.

 

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After examining various materials we zeroed in on slotted angle palette racks for walls. These storage units cladded with Galvalume sheet on the exterior doubled up for thermal comfort as well. The basic design gave segregated space for sleeping, kitchen and verandah. The modular design of the assembly catered to expansion and flexible usage of spaces. The sheet thickness and material could be varied as per availability and budget.

Our learning from prototyping and testing stages were immense – we realised corrugated sheets would not work well with slotted angles; the door had to be of a lighter material; a fabricator was not able to handle slotted angles, and so on. This gave us even more room for thought, and gave us the impetus to work on our second version.

 

 

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Towards Dignity and Empowerment

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After two houses were built, everyone came forward to form their own teams to make their own blocks in quick efficient time. We were not needed to drive them; they drove themselves and us. We completed 14 houses in one year, on a need basis. It took us longer to work people! We learnt from a veteran NGO that a test of our success is to see how many leaders sprout in the village in the time we are working there. Jayamma was the first to express need for a smokeless chulha which Canara Bank would fund. When we had the inauguration and hand-over ceremony, Sakamma, Kempamma, Madappa came on the stage along with Kalappa and village elder Chikeliappa. This was true empowerment!

The Timmaiyanadoddi model was an experiment, with an outlook to make it a replicable model for intervention. Apart from providing for the basic need for decent shelter, the model inquired to ascertain the impact of holistic design of built environment on the human psyche

Once you are the proud owner of a house, and are involved in the rebuilding of the spaces around your houses, the level of sensation of well-being, self-worth and responsibility towards oneself and on the surrounding environment is likely to increase.

We found that it certainly has increased. This made our hard journey and efforts worthwhile. Thimmaiyandoddi is a success story. Thimmaiyanadoddi- NIVASA’s flagship project towards dignity and empowerment.

Nivasa is an Architectural NGO that is based out of Bangalore. We seek to provide professional design and construction support for rural housing and infrastructure in India’s villages as a Design and Build Venture. The organization is run by a small group of dedicated individuals. Our philosophy is “Improving the quality of lives of people in villages in a holistic manner”. NIVASA’s vision is for every villager in India to own his permanent home. We are an Architectural NGO that is based out of Bangalore. We seek to provide professional design and construction support for rural housing and infrastructure in India’s villages as a Design and Build Venture. The organization is run by a small group of dedicated individuals. Our philosophy is “Improving the quality of lives of people in villages in a holistic manner”. Five areas of intended Impact in villages, where Impact is the enhancement of human capability towards self-reliance, are Housing & Infrastructure, Health, Access to finance, Education & Skill development.

Our values are shaped on: Purity of Purpose, Integrity of Thought & Action, Patience & Perseverance in Execution, The Community as the locus of Interest, The Cause is greater than the Self.

Our direct focus is on housing & infrastructure. It is our belief that long term sustainable changes can be made to any society if a few organizations with specialist skills in these five areas work in a non-competitive, complementary manner to bring about the change. This is what we did in Thimmaiyandoddi.

 

Supporting the Village

Mr. S.S. Bhatt has been the chief general manager of Canara Bank for the last 33 years. He looks after the priority credit financial inclusions as well as CSR initiatives.

He narrates to us, his experiences working on the Thimmaiyanadoddi project.

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“Corporate Social Responsibilities is in the DNA of Canara bank. We have been doing CSR activities since 1906 when the bank was established. The founder of Canara bank, who has been a supporter of the lower caste and the people of weaker sections said, ‘A good bank is not only a commercial heart of a community, but also the social heart.’ Accordingly, he made the bank interested in common people’s causes and found ways to help them. These ethos have been continued in Canara Bank over the years. Year after year, we all work towards developing the CSR concepts.

The bank has been taking up CSR initiatives in fields of education, health, family welfare and many other areas. The development of villages has been one of the great initiatives. Many of our initiatives are associated with villages, where we have helped with development. These interventions have happened with the help of other banks and NGO’s in the field too.

Thimmaiyanadoddi village, near Bangalore, is a hamlet with about 60 families. It was quite a backward village. When Nivasa came up with a development plan for the village, Canara bank was really interested in associating with Nivasa in creating good infrastructure in the village and also to make sure that the interventions required for the development is supported by Canara Bank. A preliminary survey was conducted in the village. A gap assessment was also made in the village in the study.

As the name suggests, Nivasa was working towards building houses for the people there. They encouraged the people to decide to build new houses through the funding arrangement. Canara Bank wanted to support this initiative by giving support for laying out roads, drainage systems, water harvesting systems, drinking water supply, and some non-credit interventions like supporting the children through education, building a community hall for the meeting of village people and the women there. We also wanted to identify the unemployed youth and women providing them with some skill-based training to take up self-employment ventures.

Over time, we noticed many development changes in the village. In December 2014, new houses, water tanks, central road with drainage, water harvesting system were all constructed and set up. The community hall, an important part of the village, was complete and provided the village with a place to meet. It also provides space for workshops and programmes organised for the children by volunteers. We also provided computers in the school for computer education for the children.

Providing support for infrastructure alone in a village is not sufficient. There should be some growth in the village so that the people find ways to get income through a productive venture. In order to do that, we provided farmers with the right credit facility. We identified entrepreneurship among the women, trained them in some activities (candle making, tailoring, etc.) We have a self-employment training institute exclusively for women in Harohalli where these women were trained by expert faculty. There was an arrangement made, wherein the women were connected to a merchant in Bangalore, so that whatever they make is sold easily and they get their income.”

Watch the remainder of the interview in the video.

Thoughts on Rural Housing

Shri. P.V. Maiya was in the banking service. He worked for 32 years in SBI before he started the ICICI Bank in 1994. Since his retirement in 1998, he has been working on and off as an advisor to whoever seeks. He also keeps himself busy with social activities. This includes being the president of the Yogakshema trust.

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Here are some of his thoughts on rural housing and ways to bring change.

What are your views about the need for rural housing?

“The question about the need for rural housing is not relevant, because no one can say that there is no need for rural housing. India has over 600,000 villages and in the vast majority of them, people don’t have proper shelter. The basic needs are shelter, food and education. Unfortunately in this country, housing has been a neglected area and it has not be possible for any government over the last 70 years to tackle this problem. This requires an enormous effort, time and money. Unless we do this, our people in villages will continue to live in abject poverty without proper shelter and will be condemned to live without a decent life which is unfortunate. But, there is no question about the need. Today, it is absolutely essential to provide housing to rural folk. Indeed houses to any families who need it, because it is the basic necessity of civilization.”

In the collaboration of the government, financial institutions and NGOs, what role should each play?

“The problem of housing is acute in rural areas (perhaps equally acute in some urban centres), is so enormous that it is not humanly possible for any one government or one agency to tackle this problem. It might take a century given the population of India. Nevertheless, collaborative effort is necessary by all concerned. The role of the government is essential is making sure that proper land is available, all approvals connected with the building of houses are completed efficiently and promptly.

Each of these houses cost money. So, financial institutions have the role of providing the loans for these houses at low rates. This are possible with an insurance and commitment from the home owners. Banks need to make it an easy process with simple formalities.

NGOs role in this case is not just complimentary. Their commitment level is high in bringing awareness about the need for a house, of what are proper shelters. Their work is also in arranging financial assistance and ensuring that the assistance given is repaid promptly.

They also need to make sure that the home owner puts in commitment and his own effort to work towards the house. The more we think about doling money, the more we are actually degrading them. We must encourage them to commit themselves to build their home. That is possible when the individual owner has a sense of feeling towards living better. This is where NGOs can bring a great deal of awareness and education to the people.”

Back to School

 

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As part of our efforts to improve the school at Thimmaiyanadoddi, we arranged for volunteers from Vagdevi Vilas School to come and assess the system.

The teachers who came assessed the school and found the teacher there to be quite knowledgeable and was doing a good job with the teaching using a variety of creative teaching aids. The classroom was well organised and decorated with different charts and concept sheets. A teaching assistant also helped with the activities in the school.

The students were tested on their lessons frequently. The volunteers checked through the question papers prepared and found them to encompass what was necessary. Students on a whole seemed be quite regular in attending classes. The problem found, however, was in the lack of involvement of the parents in their child’s education. This consequently led to a lessened motivation in the students. A possible solution to this would be to educate the parents so that they valued the education of their children.

For one test conducted during the assessment, a few students only showed up when Prema (the community worker) coaxed the parents to send them. The students seemed serious about the test, yet were not able to answer the questions well. It was also noted that none of the students did any homework. This issue was also linked to the lack of interest from the parents and their inability to help their children complete assignments. The teacher suggested that every evening, one parent should supervise their children’s home work for a short time at the school.

Aside from that, the school infrastructure could also be improved. If the ground in the school compound was levelled, then there would be space to accommodate a few playground equipment to be used during school break times. Other needs of the school like the ceiling fan in the classroom and shoes for the children could also be addressed.

Continued support for the school would need to be provided in the form of teaching materials and activity plans for the children. A special programme for Children’s day would also be organised. But most importantly, a method of educating the parents would be the key to improve the school system in Thimmaiyanadoddi.

This was achieved by our community worker and the volunteer teachers who set up a system of rotation where by two parents came to the school beyond school hours to ensure parental involvement.

There were very few kids who completed primary education here, who were able to cope with the middle school education in government schools close by. Many of them ran back home, unable to cope. With continual efforts from Prema and the volunteers, one girl was motivated to study further. YogaKshema managed to support her. A few more students showed interest to continue on to middle school bu the time we left the village.

The costs of traveling to the village is prohibitive to sustain our efforts. Moreover, primary school education is not our forte. Our measures to get corporate companies to fund/include this village in their CSR didn’t work out. Quality education for the kids of Thimmaiyanadoddi is a passport out of penury, and we are still hoping for a guardian angel to descend onto Thimmaiyandoddi.

 

Partnering for Progress

While the work progressed in Thimmaiyanadoddi, the merit of working with other organizations was proved.

From the beginning of the project, Nivasa looked for organizations that would assist in community development as well as in supporting the project financially. But unfortunately, due to the remoteness and small size of the village, it was difficult to find a group that would be willing to invest their time and effort.

In late 2012 YogaKshema, an NGO whose vision is to ‘Improve the quality of life of people and help them make lifestyle changes’ was willing to join us in our work in the village. They visited the village and assessed the needs of the people. A community worker was appointed by them to work with the people. This proved to be a great necessity to the project. Prema helped the people on many fronts, from women empowerment, child health and education, as well as helping the people live happier as a community. She also helped Nivasa, by helping the people understand the merits of smokeless chulhas and improved construction methods. YogaKshema, along with SVYM also helped with training programmes for the people.

YogaKshema was also instrumental in acquainting Canara Bank with the work at Thimmaiyanadoddi. Soon Canara Bank agreed to help with the project. Each homeowner had to invest in the construction of their new house and Canara Bank set up a model for them to cover the costs on loan.

With the help of Canara Bank, many of the people were able to open their own bank accounts as well as some training for skill development for the villagers who were interested. They also organised self-help group programmes and brought the village together for positive change.

Working with the village was never easy. Many times, there was resistance against the help that was coming to them. Yet, with the combined effort of a team with lots of perseverance, the village was on the path to progress.

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Compiling the Journey

Halfway through the work in Thimmaiyanadoddi, we decided to put together the work that we were a part of with the help of Rageev Malagi.

Our collaborators of the project were interviewed, various areas of the village and the work was videoed and after many many hours were spent compiling and editing, the documentary was completed.