‘COVID-19 tales of the Pandemic’ launched | Daily News

‘COVID-19 tales of the Pandemic’ launched

Ceremonious handing over of book to District Secretaries by UNDP and EU representatives
Ceremonious handing over of book to District Secretaries by UNDP and EU representatives

A collection of COVID-19 stories compiled by Sarvodaya’s Shanthi Sena Sansadaya was launched recently as a part of an initiative supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Sri Lanka and the European Union’s Service for Foreign Policy Instruments.

The launch took place at the Homagama Divisional Secretariat in the presence of Pradeep Yasrathne, District Secretary – Colombo; Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne, President of Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement; Dulani Sirisena, SDG Integration Specialist, UNDP in Sri Lanka; and Fabrizio Senesi, Deputy Head of Cooperation, Delegation of the European Union to Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne, President of Sarvodaya Movement addressing the gathering

The book is an archive of memories and experiences of diverse communities across Sri Lanka during the lockdown, featuring the stories of real people collected on the ground by representatives of civil society organization (CSO), Sarvodaya Sansadaya. This collection of stories is part of a wider project by UNDP funded by the European Union to prevent violent extremism in the Asian region by addressing its root causes, promoting tolerance and respect for diversity, and empowering CSOs to strengthen social cohesion and communal harmony.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought unforeseen development challenges and socio-economic impacts, leaving many communities unexpectedly vulnerable. With the growing fear and suspicion around those exposed to the virus as well as discrimination, a new obstacle had arisen causing an increase in communal tensions and disharmony.

In-light of this, Sarvodaya Shanthi Sena together with UNDP in Sri Lanka and with the support of the European Union, launched a series of online dialogues with 10 district level Civil Society Leaders’ Committees consisting of religious, community, women and youth leaders in areas severely affected bythe coronavirus outbreak.

These dialogues enabled communities to share firsthand experiences of hardships and challenges during COVID-19. Engaging with a diverse range of experts, a knowledge sharing platform was developed covering areas of sociology, media, history and medical guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within their communities. The initiative aimed to foster greater understanding of social issues and strengthen communal trust.

Commenting on the initiative, Ravindra Kandage, Executive Director, Sarvodaya Sansadaya stated, “Many faced the pandemic situation with resilience and courage, while some remained dejected. This collection of stories of real-life experiences of fellow Sri Lankans were made available to us by a group of religious, community and youth leaders elected from 10 districts in the country. These are stories of hardships, communities coming together, resilience, hope and grief.”

Entrepreneurs faced immense difficulties during this time of crisis with many losing their source of income to cater to their daily needs. The wider initiative also assisted young entrepreneurs in rebuilding their businesses to better sustain them for the future. Through an open call, 102 entrepreneurs were selected to undergo training on business planning, management and development, and thereafter received financial grants to restore their businesses. Among these entrepreneurs were women, persons with disabilities and widows from diverse communities across Sri Lanka.

Frank Hess, Head of Cooperation, EU in Sri Lanka stated, “In Sri Lanka, as elsewhere, these efforts aim to build and strengthen the resilience of at-risk communities while playing a key role in supporting local responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. This prioritization reflects the EU’s call for pandemic response measures which take into account the needs of those most at risk of marginalization and stigmatization and other forms of discrimination. Now, more than ever, we support efforts to build inclusive societies that effect institutional responses and behavioral change.”

Sharing his thoughts on the initiative, Robert Juhkam, Resident Representative of UNDP in Sri Lanka in a foreword to the book further stated, “The community dialogues brought out stories of vulnerabilities and resilience due to COVID-19 and yet, were overtaken by empowering stories of inter-communal harmony and entrepreneurial journeys of joy and success. With a strong message of togetherness at its heart, this compilation of life stories and experiences serve as a powerful resource, to help reflect, empathize and empower communities to navigate challenging times with solidarity.”

District level launches of the COVID-19 story booklet have also been scheduled in the coming months in Galle, Colombo, Kandy, Kalutara, Puttalam, Anuradhapura, Trincomalee, Gampaha and Matale with the support of religious leaders,district officials, media personnel, civil society leaders and community participants.