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Constructing houses, rebuilding a community

Renee Schreurs

Last November and December the state of Tamil Nadu, and in particular the areas around the city of Chennai, were hit by terrible rains. Vast numbers of homes and businesses were flooded and many people were left injured or died as a result of the weather.


The Londor Community in which we work was hit badly. One of the old ladies in the community passed away and many lost their poorly built homes. My Name is Kumar stepped in to provide emergency support and offered food and shelter to everyone affected. The parents of the My Name is Kumar children were left without their belongings, food and safety – it was not possible for our children to visit their mums and dads and without help their parents would have been utterly destitute.


We realised that we couldn’t continue to only help the children of Londor. If we wanted to break the cycle of poverty then we needed to be able to support their families too. 


So we began working with Programa VACA, a Mexican organisation which works with talented volunteer architects visiting communities with high poverty levels to build low cost homes using sustainable materials and local techniques. Programa VACA don’t just turn up in a community and start building. They work with the community from design to moving in day and involve the community in every process – even the cement mixing!


After some initial work in the Spring when we began planning the new homes and community skills centre, Programa VACA volunteers are now back in India and have started building.

These new homes are made using traditional mud and bamboo materials, with solid cement foundations. Each of the homes will be powered using solar energy, a safe and clean alternative to the open fires the community use. Whereas the old homes were just one simple room where everybody in the family slept, ate and lived, the new homes will have partitioned bedrooms and cooking areas. This means that younger children are protected from seeing adult relations at a young age (previously a common problem in the community).

Building is still in progress and much more is yet to be done but we are in full swing. Members of the community are wholeheartedly involved in the building process and are even able to learn new skills that may in the future be very useful to them when looking for work.

Below are a selection of photos some captured by the volunteers on their phones and others are taken by photographer Bernardo Buendia.