Labour of love: Kerala's 'White Army' has been building houses for the poor -George Poikayil

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published Published on Jun 20, 2021   modified Modified on Jun 21, 2021

-The New indian Express

The White Army -- a collective of 30 masons, painters, auto drivers, students, and an electrician of Arayi village -- has been helping build houses for the poor for the past eight years.

KASARAGOD: Vidya Shankar's Tamil Nadu-based husband, a daily wage labourer, died four years ago in Salem. That was the second time she was orphaned. The first was when she was a teenager. The second time, she carried a toddler in her arm and a six-year-old daughter clutched her other hand. Though her mother had left her 10 cents of land in Arayi in Kanhangad, there was no house. For the time being, her aunt took the family in.

Seeing Vidya's plight, two women's collectives in the neighbourhood thought of helping her build a house. They pooled just enough money to build the foundation for the house. The construction work was stuck at that stage for a year when her councillor, Mini K, told Vidya about the White Army.

"Because of them, my girls and I have a house of our own," says Vidya, sitting in front of her small but solid house.

The White Army -- a collective of 30 masons, painters, autorickshaw drivers, a couple of students, and an electrician of Arayi village -- has been helping build houses for the poor for the past eight years.

"We don't have money and we don't raise money either. What we can donate is our labour of love," said Surasu P P, 40, a salesman in a jewellery shop in Kanhangad and member of the White Army.

They work only on Sundays and other holidays -- that means the White Army never takes a break. Now they have completed 500 days, built 10 ready-to-occupy houses, built the structures of another 35 houses, and constructed additional rooms, attached bathrooms, and kitchens in 150 houses. They have built houses in Panathur and also in Cheruvathur, which are 60 km apart.

"We build houses which have a maximum built-up area of 650 sq ft. That cap keeps out the middle class," says Narayanan P (50), the chief mason of the White Army.

Of the 30 members, 10 persons will always be available to work on holidays Narayanan has not missed a single day since 2012. "We take just five Sundays to build the structure of a small house. We start at 6 am and wrap up by 3 pm," he said.

Back in 2012, five masons -- Narayanan, Santhosh K P, Satheeshan A, Surendran A, and Rajan P -- got together to build a house for Rajeevan P P, their colleague. They did not charge him any money. "That's how we started. Then we thought why not build houses for the poor," said Narayanan.

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The New Indian Express, 20 June, 2021, https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/kerala/2021/jun/20/labour-of-love-2318777.html?fbclid=IwAR0X9G4JKIpWykJO2b5ANHZUepwW8X3hpqt7leNv97U7O2_oRZ5zN2AS8f4


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