Father Dilan Perera has changed the lives of many poor families with his housing program. (Photo: Father Perera)
Madasami Selvaraj, a Hindu laborer, visited all the politicians and religious leaders in his area and asked them for support to build a house for his six-member family.
He had a lifelong dream to build a new house. On most rainy days, his children cannot go to school because their school uniforms are wet.
The family live in a small thatched hut. "On rainy days the whole house gets wet and muddy. We went to meet all the politicians in the area and asked for help, but no one did. Eventually our house became muddy from the rain and the walls collapsed," said Selvaraj.
"All the people around my house are rich and they have luxury houses with long parapet walls. None of them felt sorry for me."
In the end, a Buddhist monk in the village temple told him to meet Father Dilan Perera.
"Father Dilan built a beautiful house for our family and opened it on Sept. 21. Now all four of my children can go to school even on rainy days and this is the paradise I see in my lifetime," said Selvaraj with tears in his eyes.
Over the past 14 years, the Oblate priest has worked hard to improve the living conditions of the rural poor.
Today the priest lives in a parish in the capital, but his housing program began at Christ the Liberator Church in Buttala in Monaragala district, a very remote village 320 kilometers from Colombo.
The strange thing is that no matter how much work Father Perera has to do at the Church of Our Lady of Fatima at Maradana in Colombo, he still continues his mission to put up houses for the poor.
The priest still finds poor people living in houses made from cadjan — woven mats made from coconut palm leaves, used for roofing and walls.
He has put up over 200 new houses with toilet facilities for Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians throughout the country. He initiated new houses to improve the living standards of the people in Monaragala, a district with a high poverty rate, in 2006.
Individual donors and charities support the construction of complete houses, half of which have been given to Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims.
"In some places, poor people defecate in the jungle or some get up early in the morning and go to the beach, so I had to put in a toilet for each of these houses," said Father Perera.
"What the government is doing is relocating them, but I am trying to build a house for them where they are. The main challenge is that many of these people do not have a deed to their own land.
"I am assisted in carrying out this mission with a few local and foreign friends on a very small scale. It is a very difficult task but God is with me. I remember them all in my prayers."
Support from the "Dream Team" in Australia has allowed Father Perera to complete several houses. Individual donors help with small donations in memory of their loved ones.
Sadun Hapuarachchi, a teacher at an international school in Colombo, said that no matter how busy the priest is in his city parish, he still spends time listening to homeless people.
"We have a lot of good administrators among priests and nuns but we have fewer pastors who look after the poor and the needy. People love them and such priests live forever in the memory of the people," said Hapuarachchi.
"Many priests today only do their parish work but Father Dilan goes beyond that and not only works in the parish but also does a lot of other work."