AK Radhakrishnan, an unskilled labourer with his mother, wife and school-going son at their new house in Puthenvelikkara. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: While the south Indian state of Kerala is currently facing yet another episode of floods and landslides, 138 families, whose houses were destroyed in the earlier 2018 deluge, now have safe and secure homes, thanks to a Dubai-based group.

Following the most devastating floods in the history of Kerala in August 2018, Aster DM Healthcare had in October 2018 pledged a Dh7.7m ‘Aster Homes Fund’ for building new houses and to repair damaged houses of flood victims in the state.

Dr Azad Moopen, founder chairman and managing director of Aster DM Healthcare, who hails from Kerala, had handed over a cheque of Dh1.3m to the Chief Minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan towards the Chief Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund.

Dh6.4 million project

The remaining amount of Dh6.4m was set aside for the Aster Homes project, which included new homes for people who had lost their houses but owned land, for whom individual sustainable housing designs was considered.

For those who had lost houses and did not own any land, cluster homes for groups of people were considered, if the government or the local bodies could provide suitable land.

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In March 2020, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan (left) handed over the keys to the 100th Aster Home beneficiaries in the presence of Dr Azad Moopen (third from left)Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan (left) handing over the keys to Aster Home beneficiaries in the presence of Dr Azad Moopen (third from left). Image Credit: Supplied

Aster employees who were severely impacted were also named as beneficiaries, who had to apply for the assistance.

More homes being built

Out of 250 homes, a total of 138 homes have now been completed and handed over to the beneficiaries under the Aster Homes Project, the group confirmed to Gulf News.

On March 1, 2020, chief minister Vijayan had attended a function celebrating the completion of the 100th house under the project and handed over the keys to the beneficiaries.

According to the group, 38 more houses were built and handed over later, with the last two being handed over this week. As many as 43 others are under construction and 74 more will be built in the next phase.

Aster Homes beneficiary Yamuna with her son. Image Credit: Supplied

Habitat Technology Group, which constructed the sustainable houses under the ‘Rebuild Kerala’ project, had won the national Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs’ award for the best construction in the disaster rehabilitation sector in September 2020.

Bringing back hope

Dr Moopen said Aster Homes was the group’s effort to bring back hope into the lives of people who lost everything to the devastating floods.

“Led by the Aster Volunteers team, who were the first responders on ground to provide the much-needed relief when the flood struck, we were relentlessly pursuing the initiative over the last three years to fulfil the commitment to provide homes for 250 people. We are thankful to all our partners who joined us in our journey and hope to achieve the target soon,” he said in a statement to Gulf News.

Beneficiaries narrate their stories

Salini Babu is one of the beneficiaries who now lives in an Aster Home in Ernakulum district.

Speaking to Gulf News over the phone from Kerala, she said she was serving as the panchayat [local village council] president in Kadamakudy village when the floods devoured around seven islands in the area.

Salina Babu with her son at their new house. Image Credit: Supplied

“Our panchayat was one of the worst hit in 2018 floods. People from seven small islands had to be relocated. I was the panchayat president from 2015 to 2020. But I was living in a rented house along with my school-going son,” she added.

She said she was busy in rescue and relief operations since 4am on the first day of the flood. “I could return home only after 12 days. By then, I had lost everything in the house. I didn’t have land also. Our local church helped me buy the land in another area and Aster Homes built my current house there.”

Aster said the key to her home was handed over on the seventh death anniversary of her husband.

Though she was into politics and social service, Salini said she had been struggling since she had lost her husband to a heart attack.

“This home is a big relief to us. I couldn’t even dream of building a house like this. Now I have a secure house and I don’t have to pay any rent. I am emotional when I think of this generosity that I received and I am extremely thankful to Aster DM Foundation and Dr Azad Moopen for this,” she added.

New homes after ruined houses

Another beneficiary, Yamuna, was also living with her son in Vaduthala area. “Our house had become uninhabitable after the floods. I couldn’t have managed to build a house like this,” she said, thanking the group for the safe shelter.

AK Radhakrishnan, an unskilled labourer living with his wife and a school-going son in Puthenvelikkara, said his place was one of the worst hit.

“There was hardly anything left in our house after the floods. We are grateful for our lives. I had three cents of land. But with the floods destroying everything it was extremely difficult for me to build another house. We are very happy at our new home which is now giving us secure shelter from the rains,” he said, adding that he was grateful to the group.