Emergency response to the Covid-19 – Case of the Sarvodaya Movement in Sri Lanka

The world is currently battling one of the worst health pandemics in decades, the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.


Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, the largest people’s movement in Sri Lanka has always been one of the first civil society organizations in Sri Lanka to respond to any emergency crisis in the country. This has been the case during the decades long civil war, the Tsunami and during natural disasters such as floods. However, covid-19 posed a unique challenge as it restricted Sarvodaya employees from physically reaching out to grassroots communities (an attribute Sarvodaya is well known for) and confined them to fighting this crisis within the walls of their homes.

Sarvodaya immediately began risk education via social media on covid-19 as per the guidelines given by the State Health Authorities and the World Health Organization (WHO). At the beginning of the pandemic in Sri Lanka, Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne, President of the movement played a key role in disseminating vital health related information via videos and posters developed by Sarvodaya and also shared verifiable information on covid-19 via social media. Similarly, the district coordinators maintained contact with the relevant state authorities while also communicating with Sarvodaya Shramadana Society Members (villages) to address any concerns related to the Covid-19 and to provide awareness and moral support during this challenging time. Sarvodaya also offered all its residential and training facilities to the Government to be used as medical centres for covid-19 affected patients or to be used as quarantine centres. At present the government is occupying two Sarvodaya centres for this purpose. Amidst this crisis, Sarvodaya also prioritized its Children’s home, Elders’ homes and Teenage mother’s homes to ensure their safety and wellbeing, and also ensure smooth functioning of the homes during the curfew.


While attending to the multiple vital emergency responses, the Sarvodaya team collaborated with local civil society organizations and the local government authorities to attend to some of the immediate needs of the most affected members of the community. Amidst the curfew, the team distributed dry ration packs to underprivileged daily wage earners, provided face masks and protective gear to medical staff in hospitals, and provided refreshment packs to medical staff at selected government hospitals. As of 30th Marcy, 1350 dry ration packs had been distributed but the team aims to distribute at least 3150 more packs. The top management of Sarvodaya is constantly in contact with the teams on the ground through Microsoft team calls. They have also developed situational analysis reports, and developed a short term, medium term, and long-term response plan to Covid-19. Due to the current crisis, Sarvodaya has also been entrusted with the responsibility to oversee 400 state run children’s homes in the country. Furthermore, Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne is extending his expertise and support by co-chairing the health cluster of the United Nations Humanitarian Country Team. Last but not least, Sarvodaya is also working closely with UNICEF and Religious Leaders on the role of religious leaders during covid-19, especially in relation to positive social media messaging and risk education on COVID-19.


Although this context may overwhelm many social and humanitarian workers, the Sarvodaya team has worked tirelessly to do their best for underprivileged and vulnerable communities through the binding virtues of faith, spirituality, compassion and solidarity. Sarvodaya has been partner of Arigatou International for over a decade. Part of this partnership has been through the Arigatou International – End Child Poverty Knowledge Centre, hosted by Sarvodaya. The manager of this Knowledge centre has been part of the emergency response team. By being part of the Sarvodaya emergency response in during this Covid-19 pandemic, we widen the reach of our work and impact by working for the welfare of children.


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