By Latheef Farook –
Dismissed and discarded the miserable plight of the poverty stricken and illiterate Muslim slum dwellers in Colombo, proudly described in the recent past as the emerging Miracle of Asia, remains a shameful indictment on successive governments but also on the so called Muslim politicians.
These slum dwellers face acute poverty, illiteracy, housing, educational, unemployment and many such problems.
With poverty continues to play havoc most children are deprived of proper education and, early in life, they turn to petty jobs to support their families. This brings an end to their educational career and their better future.
The pathetic state of their education facilities is such that Hameed Al Husseiniya, the only national school, requires 176 teachers and other facilities. Exploiting the situation so called international schools sprang up everywhere.
Boys’ schools were needed badly for Muslims students in Colombo South and in Kolonnawa too. However all efforts to start schools failed and the misery continues. As a result drop out from school remains very high causing serious social and economic problems
According to reports around 63 percent of Muslims in Colombo district live in slums. For example in one area in Peer Sahib Street called Watta no 61 there are eleven houses where 20 families live.
In yet another case four families live in a house built on a perch land. Muslims occupy around nine percent of the land area in Colombo Central and more than half of them live in rented houses. In one place eleven houses have one toilet and health facilities remain appalling.
There are several cases where people sleep in shifts due to lack of facilities.
Added to their misery there was no political representation for Colombo Muslims during the past five years depriving them of the budget allocations usually given to parliamentarians?
With governments and politicians ignoring these unfortunate people civil society in the Muslim community has come forward to rehabilitate them.
One such experiment was in Applewatta, a shanty of mixed population with the majority being Muslims, located in the heart of Colombo.
A group of well wishers organised a shramadana program to help improve their living conditions. Notable among those who took the initiatives were well known entrepreneur Fouzul Hameed of HAMEEDI’s, Reza Alaudeen of Serendib Educational Foundation and well known activist Hilru Siddeeque. Several others participated and donated cash to help ensure the success of this project.
The single most important achievement of this project is the awareness created on having a clean neighborhood from Masjid Bilal to the applewatte inhabitants.
Explaining the project activist Hilru Siddeeque who took part in the cleanup project had this to state; “Applewatte is one of the slums of Colombo in the Maligawatte Police division. It is comprised of 728 Muslim, 80 Hindu, 20 Buddhist and 20 Christian families approximately.”
“A team from the Serendib School Development Foundation (SSDF) visited this community on the 17th of March 2015 and was shocked to see the people living in such filthy and unhealthy environment. Their house were in poor condition with leaking roofs, broken toilets and some shacks without proper ventilation looked worse than cattle sheds. In some houses dirty water was oozing out of the floor and dirty drains passed through them.
The SSDF team organized a shramadana to help these slum dwellers and many liberally contributed. Among the organizations which took part were SSDF, NSC, SFRD, Muslim AID, AMYS, YMMA, AUSMA, COSLAM, YFH, CIS, and SLISM and of course WAMY, DGBM and individual donors .
Applewatte is a lost community. People live here without land deeds. There is coexistence in this mixed community. They have built their homes according to their ability and capacity without proper planning in any shape with tolerance from neighborhood. There are five public toilets and one is not functional, while the other four are not in good condition either. They need repair. There are two public bathing places. Taking a bath here is a daily battle.
The people are a necessary component of the community in the near vicinity. They supply all kinds of labour for all the odd jobs, some are running small businesses like selling home-made items and some do pavement business. The Colombo businessmen depend on these slum dwellers.
Many are broken families that have resulted in some 40 orphans, 50 street children, 30 invalid, 35 paralyzed and about 15% to 20% of the children are of average standard, Poverty leads to crime. This is what happens here. Loan and interest burdens, unemployment, gambling, betting, drug trafficking and prostitution remain common here. About 15% of the women and 10% of the men have gone abroad for odd jobs and their children are lost in life.
Another recent development was the engaging of 60 children between 10 and 15 years of age to be trained as ‘Junior Volunteers’. We need to train all volunteers with a future plan. These Volunteers can be connected to DMC if they agree to a volunteer concept to build DMC. We need to hold discussion with DMC to train their staff and out siders with input from DMC” said Hiluru.
He said urgent needs from Zakath and Sadaqa are identified. About 100 houses need roof repair. About 60 to 80 households need kitchen utensils and many children need clothes and books. An estimated 25% of the children are malnourished, because they cannot afford three quality meals a day. Approximately 15% of the people are beggars. About 35% are single parent family.
Masjid Bilal is a great center for people. About 2,000 people attend Jummah prayers from Applewatte and the surrounding areas. Usually all three floors get filled up and part of the road also become full. Contributions are collected from Applewatte for Masjid maintenance. From this an income of Rs 40,000.00 derived monthly. Jummah collection varies from Rs 2000 to Rs 3500. Two of the staff is paid by two individual donors at Rs 17,000 and Rs 15,000 respectively.
On 4 April a team from All Ceylon Baithul Fund (CBF) toured in Appelwatte and held a meeting with Masjid Bilal Foundation. They propose to do some rehabilitation activities and set a target to help 100 children in their education. This is a good move.
“We appreciate if any organization comes to visit Appelwatte and do even a little contribution in their own capacity to uplift slum life”, said Hilru Siddeeque.