KASARGOD: In a month, Asmabi Poiyakal (50), a former fisherwoman living alone, will have her own house at Chembarika near Melparamba. The 700 sq ft contemporary house has two bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen.
Six months ago, Poiyakal had been on the verge of being rendered homeless. She was living alone in her nephew's house, but he decided to sell it to raise money for his daughter's wedding.
"I had nowhere to go. No one was ready to help me," says the single woman.
Asmabi's last hope was Mohammed Rafi (40), known in his "huge friends' circle" as Vatis Rafi. He was building a house free of cost for Abdul Salam (45), an autorickshaw driver, and his mother Nafeesa (70) in the neighbourhood. For years, the aged mother and son lived in a shed without water or a power connection.
Asmabi approached Rafi. He said let's see what can be done. In a week's time, Vatis Rafi started the construction of the house for her.
This is the third house he is building for the homeless.
Before Salam's house, he had built a 1000 sqft house for Hamsa, another autorickshaw driver. All the three houses are built in contemporary style, are spacious and look chic. They are all designed by him.
"Just because they are poor does not mean they do not have a desire to live in a beautiful house. That's why I ensure that the houses are tastefully made," says Rafi.
Rafi, a school dropout, has studied only up to class 4. Today, he is a small-time marble and granite seller. He lives with Beefathima, his wife of 20 years, and three sons in a 1000 sq ft house at her native place Paduppu.
"If you ask me, Vatis Rafi cannot make a similar house for himself. But he has a big heart and a big circle of friends who are helping him do it," says Hassankutty Kattakal, a social worker and member of the Bekal Janamaitri Police committee.
Each of the houses he has built cost between Rs 7.5 lakh and Rs 8 lakh, says Rafi, who is from Melparamba.
He has a novel way to keep cost low. He goes around looking for people demolishing houses to build new ones. "When I tell them my need, they give away one or two doors or windows free of cost," he says.
Then there is crowdsourcing. He taps people for whom he has worked.
"I have delivered granite for lawyers, farmers, government employees, bankers. When I ask for a one or two bags of cement, I will never deny. They haven't done it yet," he says.
His biggest resources are his friends. "They are my only asset," he says.
But he is careful not to burden them. He does not ask for more than five bags of cement from a person, or one truckload of metal or laterite stones form a person. Importantly, he never takes money.
"I ask them to supply the material. Handling money is a headache," he says.
He also makes sure he never asks the same person to donate twice. "If I ask one person to donate 25 bags of cement, he will never pick my call again," he says and laughs.
"Behind each house, there are scores of good souls," he says. That's one reason why he does not pose for photographs with the beneficiaries.
In 2019, he has committed to build two more houses. "Hope I will be able to pull them off too," he says.