Five years ago, Sister Lizzy Chakkalakkal, principal of a school in Kochi, Kerala, discovered that one of her students was homeless. This prompted the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary nun and some students of Our Lady’s Convent Girls Higher Secondary School, Thoppumpady, to take up the ‘House Challenge Project.’
They raised money and constructed a house for the child and her family. That was only the beginning. An inspired Sister Lizzy, as she is popularly known, decided to continue with the initiative. Since then, one hundred houses have been constructed for the poor and homeless by her project for free.
The money for construction is raised through contributions from students, parents, teachers as well as anyone who is willing to donate.
Once the required amount is collected, the school facilitates the construction by bringing in workers and other parties until the house is ready for its occupants. “When we think of service for the society and particularly, the homeless, most of us assume that all they need is food and clothes. While these are indeed basic necessities, a roof over one’s head is equally important. Through these homes, we are providing them security but more than that, the hope and will to build a better life,” said Sister Lizzy.
“While the primary objective of this initiative was to end homelessness in Kochi, I also wanted to inculcate a culture of sharing in the students. And what could be a better way to teach students about the joy of giving than to involve them in the process,” said Sister Lizzy.
Students, teachers as well as the management staff of the school have played a significant role in contributing money for the homes that have been constructed. “During celebratory occasions like their birthdays, these children have voluntarily come forward to donate money, and that truly helped this initiative gain momentum. Initially, only students and staff were helping to raise funds, but, as word spread, people from all walks of life joined in,” the principal explained.
The project is not limited to the families of students from the school; it has also built homes for the differently-abled and widowed mothers. “In today’s date and time, constructing a simple house doesn’t amount to much, and our efforts have proven that. By teaching children, we are striving to take forward the message that together, we can end homelessness,” Sister Lizzy added.
Last year when floods ravaged Kerala, it adopted close to 150 families to help them get back on their feet. Additionally, a total of 12 fully-constructed houses were handed over to families from Kuttanad as well as flood-hit villages from Ernakulam district.
Sister Lizzy says Jesus has been her motivator. “He strengthens me to work in solidarity with the poor and the marginalized for their socioeconomic betterment and to generate in them a new life and hope,” she said.
She pointed out the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi and the charisma of their founder, Mary of the Passion, a daring visionary and missionary with a prophetic spirit, have influenced her a lot. “My congregation encourages its members to work among those deprived of social justice, human rights, human values and spiritual nourishment. Promoting justice, human dignity, harmony, and communion among people and communities is the basis of our socio-pastoral services. The Jesus values and Gospel values like love, justice, peace, care, concern and compassion for others, human rights, and dignity are at the centre our activities.”
The nun has also initiated a program called Friend of Friendless. Under this program, they visit families of those who are terminally ill in the hospitals and provide them with spiritual and material support. Another initiative is Mary of the Passion Higher Education Scholarship Project. The scholarship in her school supports their former students as well as those academically proficient who cannot afford higher education.