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“I prayed fervently for this home,” she said. “When it is done, I will be a bit more secure. At least I can save on my rent, which can go instead toward my children’s education.”

Mar Baselios was committed to spreading the funds as far as possible, while building quality homes. “We had to have houses that would last at least 25 to 30 years,” he said.

To control costs, the project managers decided on a standard design for the houses: 332-square-foot brick-and-cement structure, with a bedroom, living room, kitchen and toilet. Each home is wired and painted.

The church relied on local contractors. “I tell them, ‘This is the plan, this is the amount, can you do it?’ ” said Father Geeverghese Nediyath, who oversees the project. “To cut costs, the contractors are paid in installments, so that money for each stage is contingent on the completion of the previous one.”

Typically, it takes around three months to complete a house, Father Nediyath said.

Deciding which families would benefit from the program was difficult given the limited resources and widespread demand. The archdiocese gives special consideration to families with school-going children. About 700 applications came in from 519 parishes and mission stations in the area.

Recipients must also own a small plot of land, about 0.04 acre, Father Nediyath said. While this rules out some of Kerala’s most impoverished, it was a necessary stipulation given the limited funds available for house construction. Many of the recipients owned small plots but were living in shacks of straw, corrugated metal or plastic. Others borrowed money to buy a plot. Mrs. Surendran received her plot from her mother-in-law.

Most of the 25 recipients are Christian, but Father Nediyath said a person’s religion had nothing to do with the decision. “No applicant or local parish priest could influence the allotment in any way,” he said.

While the homes are standardized to save money, some recipients make efforts to add extras. “Some enterprising folks make the money stretch farther,” said Suresh Therivilayil, the archbishop’s secretary.

One recipient, Thomas Rajan, a plumber, made every effort toward frugality. After he borrowed $22 from his parish priest to buy a tiny plot of land, Mr. Rajan worked alongside the contractor to cut labor costs. He also sought out used materials. Such measures allowed Mr. Rajan to make several improvements to the standard plan.

With 25 homes nearly completed, construction is under way on an additional 16, said Mar Baselios.

Soon, Mrs. Surendran and her family will begin a new life in their new home. All it needs now is some plaster work and finishing.

“This was a small, but fruitful gesture,” Cyril Mar Baselios said. “I am very happy with its achievements and am only too glad to continue. Funds permitting, this could be an ongoing enterprise.”

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Anthony Kurian is a Bangalore-based journalist.



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Tags: India Poor/Poverty Homes/housing