V-AWARDS 2018

SHINING A LIGHT ON THOSE WHO SERVE IN SILENCE

The Journey  

In 2011, the United Nations Volunteers Programme (UNV), the Ministry of Social Services, the National Steering Committee on Volunteering, and News 1st launched the National Volunteer Awards (V-Awards); a journey to recognize and appreciate those who serve in silence in their communities. It was a sincere effort to say ‘thank you’ to individuals who had selflessly contributed to Sri Lankan society and inspire other to following foot steps.

To Honour. To Salute.

The first edition of V-Awards was held in 2011. The V-Awards secretariat received over 450 applications from Sri Lankan citizens who had nominated individuals that they believed had significantly contributed to positive change in their communities. Out of the fifteen finalists, six were commended for their exemplary service to the people of Sri Lanka and one awarded as Volunteer of the Year 2011.

2011

To Honour. To Salute.

The first edition of V-Awards was held in 2011. The V-Awards secretariat received over 450 applications from Sri Lankan citizens who had nominated individuals that they believed had significantly contributed to positive change in their communities. Out of the fifteen finalists, six were commended for their exemplary service to the people of Sri Lanka and one awarded as Volunteer of the Year 2011.

2011

Volunteering for Water

The second edition of V-Awards in 2013 continued in the same vein, honouring and saluting individuals who had made extraordinary contributions to society, and identifying role models who can inspire a nation to volunteer for social causes.

2013

Volunteering for Water

The second edition of V-Awards in 2013 continued in the same vein, honouring and saluting individuals who had made extraordinary contributions to society, and identifying role models who can inspire a nation to volunteer for social causes.

2013

Recognize. Honour. Inspire.

Continuing this tradition of bringing to light inspiring acts of volunteerism, V-Awards 2015 looked to recognize, honour and inspire, individuals that have selflessly served the people of Sri Lanka.

2015

Recognize. Honour. Inspire.

Continuing this tradition of bringing to light inspiring acts of volunteerism, V-Awards 2015 looked to recognize, honour and inspire, individuals that have selflessly served the people of Sri Lanka.

2015

Volunteering for PeaceBuilding

Will continue to Recognize. Honour. and Inspire. selfless acts of volunteerism with special recognition for volunteering for PeaceBuilding.

2018

Volunteering for PeaceBuilding

Will continue to Recognize. Honour. and Inspire. selfless acts of volunteerism with special recognition for volunteering for PeaceBuilding.

2018

A Joint Initiative by  

V-Award Heroes 

Their work has empowered communities, united villages for a common cause, instilled hope and inspiration in both young and old, and renewed the spirit of humanity. Their stories of courage, perseverance and success have inspired us, and we hope that reading through their journey will rekindle the spirit of volunteerism in each and every one of you.

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Who will be the next Volunteer of the Year 2018?

Selflessness speaks no language.....

Compassion lives in the heart.....

Let us honour them.....

Winner of ‘Youth Volunteer of the Year’ award volunteered with the forensic unit of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). She is now exploring avenues of mobilizing more volunteers to support the work of NIMH.

Nalaka and the villagers from Mirahawatta had been suffering for 40 long years without a proper water supply. Nalaka took the giant step of initiating a project to provide potable water to the villagers, and urge all Sri Lankans to take more interest in helping villages without drinking water.

A software engineer by profession, Danesh uses social media to raise awareness about those in need and bring about positive social change through his organization, “Samaja Sathkara.lk”. Danesh Traveling extensively to identify those who are in need and he has reached out to over 15,000 lives through these projects.

A printer by profession, Nilupul is committed to the preserving and protecting the Bolgoda Wetland system. He is also the founder of “DaltharaParisarakayo” (Dalthara Environmentalists). Danesh Maduranga. Nilupul volunteers for environmental conservation and sustainable development in his community.

Stories to Inspire 2018

“With social service and volunteering, never expect something in return, the happiness you give someone is the biggest joy you can get.”

At a very young age Shanaya had to endure the pain of losing her aunt to cancer. Grappling with grief after, she was determined to make a difference in the lives of others who were suffering from the same debilitating disease.

It was her childhood passion for photography that she would turn to, to find solace and to create a powerful movement that is comforting many a cancer patient today. Her mother being diagnosed with cancer later made the effort even more personal for her.

Emboldened by the support and encouragement from her parents, relatives and friends, Shanaya, who was only 10 at the time together with her 8 year-old sister, established Photocause in 2011, an initiative that primarily focuses on raising funds for better service and treatment facilities for cancer patients and an awareness programme that educates people on importance of cancer screening and early detection.

The initiative has now turned to a full-time passion, supported by an island-wide photography exhibition held every two years where amateur photographers submit their work. Two successful exhibitions later, over Rs. 500,000 in proceeds from the sale of the photographs have been channelled to the Cancer Society.

Furthering their cause, Shanaya launched the Awake and Click-off Cancer Awareness Programme in 2017. This included the publication and island wide distribution of the Awake Magazine, followed by a series of videos on early detection, cancer awareness and survivor stories. Her motto has always been to make people realize that cancer didn’t define who they were.

“We realized that the videos had a massive impact on people, with some reaching over 20,000 views. We believe that if it has an impact on at least 1% of that number, that is 200 people. Out of those people if we were able to persuade 20 people to screen for early detection, we have then impacted 20 lives and the many lives linked to them. With the feedback we have received, we know that lives have been impacted for the better.”

She has now set sights on a larger vision, planning an exhibition in March 2019, where 25 schools from across the island will take part in and help raise awareness on cancer screening. Her long term goal however, is to have cancer detection centres in every province by 2030. She is aware of the enormity of the task at hand but is confident that with the support of her family and well-wishers she will achieve her goal.

“Serving others shouldn't be an effort carried out in anticipation of rewards and recognition” says Shanaya who believes that even the smallest deed counts.  “You can always start small. If you try that's all that counts. With social service and volunteering, never expect something in return, the happiness you give someone is the biggest joy you can get”

“We need to inspire our youth to help them realize that life is not about entertainment for the sake of selfish satisfaction, but about finding happiness and contentment through helping others.”

 Community service was a big part of Chamila Pathirana’s childhood. He spent most of his time organizing annual community events, fund raising for charity, planting trees and many other endeavors, when most other youth his age were engaged in personal pursuits.

 

In 2006, he founded the Gauthama Daruwo Arya Foundation (GDAF), taking the advice of an elder. Recalling the incident, he says “an older gentleman speaking with us after one of our community initiatives, commended us for our effort and told us that as we grew older, we would pursue other interests and face many personal challenges which would take us away from the charitable work we were doing. His advice to us was to start a foundation, which would help us continue our work into the future.”

 

But it wasn’t until 2016, when a massive drought in the North Central Province took GDAF to Welikada, that Chamila found his true calling. Ravaged by drought, the already impoverished community of Welikada was on the brink of a catastrophe when Chamila and his friends drove two water bowsers to the area. He says the team struggled to distribute water from village to village, unable to bear the impact of the arid weather. Chamila was brought to tears seeing that the people of Welikada had to face these harsh conditions daily and what made it worse was seeing little children stand in line with tiny pots and cups to collect the water they brought.

 

This was when a young single mother of two, living in a dilapidated mud hut with a thatched roof, pleaded with him to help her build a small shelter to protect the children from the elements. With rains forecasted in the months to come, she was worried that what little remained of the house would be washed away. This was to be the first of over 50 houses Chamila has helped build for the community.

 

A public servant attached to the Ministry of Public Administration and Home Affairs, Chamila says he felt he needed to be closer to the community to continue his work and requested for a transfer to the Divisional Secretariat in the area. “It was a decision I had to make alone, as my family and friends all advised me against getting this transfer.”

 

Chamila credits a group of likeminded friends close to him for their support to help the community in Welikanda and believes they will continue to do so in the foreseeable future as well. His efforts are now focused on uplifting the community, helping with self-employment opportunities, vocational training, farming and even supporting children with their educational needs.

 

Being a father himself, Chamila feels his mission, through his work, is to inspire more people to help those in need, especially the youth of Sri Lanka. “We need to inspire our youth to realize that life is not about having fun and entertaining ourselves, but about finding happiness and contentment in helping others.”

 

Chamila says he wants to continue helping impoverished communities, help regrow forests and guide the youth to pursue community service. “We need to inspire our youth to help them realize that life is not about  entertainment for the sake of selfish satisfaction , but about finding happiness and contentment through helping others.”

“We should enrich every second of our life with good thoughts and deeds. We need to lead productive lives by doing something useful for the world we live in’”

 Chaminda was driven by one simple goal. He envisioned better days for the people of his remote village, located off Chilaw, who were engulfed in hardship for years, suffering in silence. His single-minded determination to emancipate the people from their plight saw him battle countless forces to uplift the village to the status it enjoys today.

 

“Volunteering was always in my blood. I started volunteering as a child in the village.  As I grew older, I understood the issues that our village faced, and I knew I had to do something. One such issue was the lack of basic citizen services and access to key government officials. So, I decided to build a complex that housed all of these government services, including the Grama Niladari, the Samurdhi officer and the family health practitioner under one roof, making it easily accessible to the villagers.”

 

Apart from this, Chaminda had engaged in several other voluntary work, including building a day and night handball court, providing drinking water facilities for 300 families, building toilets, rehabilitating an irrigation tank, creating an Ayurveda clinic, establishing a sports society for the youth and creating an open air library. He also successfully, launched the Nenasa Development Foundation, which provides educational facilities for children of day-labourers, who have dropped out of school.

 

With the birth of his son, Chaminda decided he needed to increase the focus of his voluntary work more towards protecting the environment. “I became more conscious of the environment the day I planted a tree when my son was born. Ever since, I have been engaged in numerous activities that include tree planting campaigns, reforestation and changing people’s mindsets about the environment through awareness programmes. I have created an environment force at school level with the intention of teaching children to value nature. Call it fate, but my great grandfather was the village chief, who cleared the forest to build our village. So, generations later, I am trying to make people feel that they need to be one with nature.”

 

Chaminda is now working towards protecting the Panirendawa Forest Reserve, which is being destroyed due to soil excavation and is allegedly being used for illegal activities.

 

Regardless of the consequences, he is determined to carry on the work he started and reach his goals.

“I have often had death threats because of my work, considering that I am trying to better the village by stopping illegal and harmful activities that are affecting the community. Despite the obstacles I face I will continue my work, because I believe in pursuing my goals no matter what the consequences are.  I didn’t do any of this expecting a personal benefit, all I want to do is serve the people.”

Chaminda believes that as humans we have a responsibility towards the world and we should make every second count. “We should enrich every second of our life with good thoughts and deeds. We need to lead productive lives by doing something useful for the world we live in. I believe we can build this country and create a beautiful tomorrow. “

 

“It is important to help someone wholeheartedly, without expecting anything in return, especially monetary gain.”

 Hailing from a low income, single parent family, Dileep says his mother repeatedly instilled in him that education was his only ticket out of poverty. His father passed away in 1995, when Dileep was just four years old. Succumbing to a life of hardship, he lived in a mud hut that could not withstand even the slightest downpour and with no money even for a tin roof. Unable to bear to see his mother suffer during the rains, he opted to ask the local police station to give him two illicit liquor barrels confiscated by them for a makeshift roof.

 

His passion for helping students through their Ordinary and Advanced Level exams was also sparked because of this leaky roof. Unable to host an alms giving for his father’s 20th death anniversary in his dilapidated home, he says he opted to instead donate school supplies to a remote school in Polonnaruwa.  Speaking with the kids, advising them on the importance of education, he recalls a female student writing a lengthy note to him, when he asked them if they had issues they would like to discuss.

 

Filled with anger at the plight of this student, who was being abused by her father, Dileep took it upon himself to help her find her way through her studies and was happy to report that she is well on her way to pursue her higher studies.

 

This ignited a passion in him to help other students, whom, like him hailed from an impoverished background with education being the only opportunity to change their plight. As a software engineer from the Moratuwa University, Dileep says his forte was math and he has conducted workshops on easy to remember techniques and short cuts for Ordinarily and Advanced Level Math at 113 schools across all 25 districts. During these workshops, he is not just a teacher to the students, he is also a motivational speaker and a guidance counsellor passing on the message that each of those students have the power to better their future.

 

Today, he says he has a passionate, likeminded group of youth who join him at these workshops, providing support with other subjects including Science and English. Their entire process is voluntary, with the team travelling by bus to each location and finding abode with a local family. He says there is no monetary benefits in what he does, but his passion for helping students excel is his biggest motivation to keep going.

 

Dileep is now keen on taking his ideology across Sri Lanka, putting his software engineering degree to work with the development of a study app and a website that will provide the tips and tricks he passes on to students, making it more accessible to them wherever they may be. He is also keen on inspiring youth to be more environmentally conscious, involving them in planting trees around Sri Lanka.

 

Dileep says “my mother always reminded me that education was my ticket out of our plight and that it is important to help someone wholeheartedly, without expecting anything in return, especially monetary gains. That is what I tell all the students as well and hope they will take inspiration from that.”

“My goal is to create young people who voluntarily stand up to serve society, regardless of the profession they are in.”

For the students of Gamini Vidyalaya, Gayan Gunathileke is more than their music teacher. He is a mentor, guide, friend and confidant. A music graduate from the University of Visual and Performing Arts, Gayan’s first appointment brought him to Nuwara Eliya. As one of the few male teachers at the school, he was handed multiple extracurricular activities apart from teaching music by the then principal, which he obligingly took on.

 

Gayan doesn’t believe that his work is complete by simply covering the syllabus, as a teacher he feels his responsibility lies in making the students well balanced individuals. “I always wanted to give the students an opportunity to participate in as many competitions as possible. Over the years since I joined the school, I have supported students whenever they need me, whether it’s scouting, IT, drama, media or music. I have encouraged them to take part in short film competitions as well. I have also led the students in other aspects such as drug prevention and environmental protection. I believe the extracurricular activities, are important for personality development. The environment you are in, helps you become the person you are, so I use every opportunity to help students hone their talent and skills.”

 

Gayan, who hails from a remote village in the Badulla District, is all too familiar with growing up with financial constraints. He sees a younger version of himself in the students, who despite their impoverished background, are eager to study and take part in extracurricular activities. This motivates him to voluntarily support them in any way he can. This includes finding solutions to the numerous problems they face.  As a solution to a long-standing issue the students faced, which included the inability to bear the cost of travelling out of the city, to Colombo or elsewhere to participate in competitions, he mobilized teachers from 23 schools in the area, to create a fund for students in the arts stream, to be utilized when needed.

 

Gayan believes that students needed to be dealt with empathy and kindness. “Students are under pressure at school and home, as teachers we need to understand that. My approach to teaching and dealing with the students is different because of what I have learnt over the years, interacting with students from all walks of life. My university education has also moulded me into who I am today.”

 

Gayan who has won numerous accolades for his exemplary teaching skills and dedication to the students say that having a 100% success rate, as a music teacher, does not make him content. He lives by the philosophy that humans must help other humans and believes that each human being has a talent that can be harnessed to make them useful to the world. “I had a teacher who was generous enough to teach for free, and thanks to his support I have become the man I am today. Inspired by this I want to do more. My goal is to create young people who voluntarily stand up to serve society, regardless of the profession they are in.”

“You must volunteer with your heart and soul. When you see people developing, you will feel real joy.”

 The story of Sister Greta begins long before 1982, at the School for the Deaf in Ragama. As soon as she completed her training as a novice nun and became a professed nun of the Congregation of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, she joined the staff at the school, it is there that she underwent a crisis, which lead her on a life altering path.

She recalls her first encounter with children with hearing impairments at the School for the Deaf in Ragama and says that they looked as if they felt that they didn’t belong. She wanted to change this and help them integrate with society.

A very unexpected scholarship to Japan, to study new techniques in hearing impaired education saw her working alongside the principal of Nippon Rowa Gakko- the Japan oral school for the deaf, who provided her with guidance to pursue her dreams of using auditory-verbal techniques to help children speak.

After an unsuccessful attempt to integrate hearing impaired children into the mainstream education system by setting up a preschool at the School for the Deaf, Sister Greta, who was also a qualified government teacher was offered a posting as a teacher in charge of a special unit at Kirillawella Maha Vidyalaya.

She started teaching her first student, in an old house near the school and it was much later that a parent donated the land, where Centre for Education of Hearing-Impaired Children (CEHIC) is now located.

As the Founder and Directress of CEHIC, she says the centre, is a unique school that has a different approach to education. “CEHIC is a community school. it is the only school in the island, where children are trained through auditory verbal method and they are integrated into mainstream schools.”

Students are enrolled to the centre as infants and pursue their education until they are 5 years old, guided by their mothers and teachers who help them find their voice. During its 35 years in operation, the CEHIC has integrated over 675 children all over the island and produced 8 graduates over the years, with 8 more students currently engaged in university education.

Despite the challenges she faces, Sister Greta has no plans of slowing down in her effort to support those with hearing impairments. “I want to make CEHIC a centre of excellence, with satellite units in each of the 9 provinces. I also have a goal of starting a teacher training course, together with the Kelaniya University”.   Sister Greta has created a syllabus, over the past 10 years that includes new methods of teaching, for the pre-school where they learn through play. She looks to promote this method to pre-schools across the country.

 

For someone who has dedicated her entire life to illuminate the lives of those ostracized from society, she says one must find happiness in the social work you do. “You must volunteer with your heart and soul. When you see people developing, you will feel real joy.”

“The benefit from working on a project like this goes beyond fighting cancer. We learn to fight as one Sri Lanka and have no differences dividing us.”

 Hilir Mohamed’s life changed forever in 2014 when his son was diagnosed with cancer. Having endured the cruelty of the disease that ravaged his son’s life, Hilir wanted to ease the pain and suffering of thousands of others, who suffered a similar fate. It was also his son’s dying wish to procure a PET scanner for the Apeksha Hospital in Maharagama.

 

Looking back, Hilir says that the project seemed like a daunting challenge that he wasn’t confident he could overcome. He initiated the effort to collect funds to buy a PET Scanner for the hospital at a time when there was communal disharmony in the country. He recalls that as a Muslim, he was worried that collecting funds would hinder his efforts of reaching out to the wider community of people from all races and religions. This notion was soon changed.

 

Hilir endured and accepted the challenge. His first motivation was his son's request and secondly the need to serve society. The generous donations of many across Sri Lanka made it possible to raise the funds needed for the PET Scanner within a short period of three months. He recalls seeing funds transferred into the account every 12 seconds. This brought him the realisation that his effort had brought people together regardless of their colour, race or religion.

 

Having established a team to take his voluntary work forward, Hilir dreams of a day humans will find a cure for cancer. Until then, he promises to keep up the fight to save lives. The Fight Cancer Team, that he set up to further his efforts, includes about 150 members representing different fields in society, people of all religions and social backgrounds. He says the intention now is to continue their social service beyond handing over the PET Scanner to the hospital. His goal is to make the Apeksha Hospital in Maharagama the best hospital in South Asia by 2025.

 

His current efforts include fundraising for LINET beds and Tomotherapy machine for the hospital. He is also keen on procuring a CT Scanner and an MRI Machine for the hospital. He says the motivation now is to get essential equipment that the hospital requires and replacing the old machines with new ones.

 

Hilir has now dedicated his life to fighting cancer and is willing to make any sacrifice to bring people together for a good cause. “I had to sacrifice the time I spend with my family and business, to make sure this project got underway and I did so with no regrets. Not only did I get to fulfil my son’s last wish I got an opportunity to bring people together, to awaken their humaneness. The benefit from working on a project like this goes beyond fighting cancer. We learn to fight as one Sri Lanka and have no differences dividing us.”

 

Social service, for Hilir is all about the intention to do good. “I started the Kadijah Foundation in remembrance of my mother, 20 years ago, so I have experience in social service. All of this helped to make this project a success. As a citizen there is a lot you can do for your country and people. If the intention is good, then whatever you wish for and want will be a success.”

 

 

 

“Man’s greatest obligation is to help people and save humanity.”

 67 year-old W. K. Wijeratne from Kasanthota in Godakawela, has been saving lives with a dying art of indigenous healing, for over 44 years. Wijeratne, who kept the tradition alive since his father’s death, is now passing his knowledge on to his son, with the hope of not letting this ancient healing technique vanish from memory.

 

“After my father passed away, I decided I needed to carry on saving lives, because I saw how many people depended on him. I knew they would be left helpless if someone didn’t continue his work. I also knew that this traditional healing practice was fast disappearing and I wanted to prevent that. I wanted to protect our Sri Lankan heritage and preserve it for the future, and that is why I have been voluntarily practicing this healing method for so long.”

 

Wijeratne, a qualified Ayurdvedic toxicologist, says that it is his privilege to be able to save people using the knowledge gained from ancient manuscripts. “I take it as my responsibility to save people, because not everyone has the ability to save lives and contribute to society in this manner. For instance, when my patient is a breadwinner of a family and I nurse that person back to health, I don't just save that life, I save a whole family from falling into hardship.”

 

As he is an expert in using traditional methods to expel poison from the body, most of Wijeratne’s patients seek his help when they suffer from snake bites, wasp and bee attacks and ailments of the nervous system. “I use age old formulae to nurse them back to health. I forage in the forest for the herbs I need and continue to make the formulae myself.  Most of these formulae are very expensive to make, but I have managed to continue this healing method, even with the economic hardships I face.”

 

While healing is his passion, Wijeratne earns a living through farming. Extending his social service beyond healing the sick, he has been actively serving as the secretary of the local Farmers’ Association for 24 years. His tireless efforts over the years have contributed immensely to the wellbeing of the farmer community in the area.

 

His greatest fear is that this traditional healing practice will disappear from the country as people have lost their appreciation for traditional medicine. However, he is determined to carry forward this legacy for as long as he can, saving countless lives, whom he says other medical practitioners would have otherwise pronounced incurable or dead. “I don’t do this for the money. I do this out of compassion for the sake of humanity. Regardless of the obstacles that I may face, I will take this traditional healing method forward into the future.”

 

As an indigenous healer and a farmer who has dedicated his life to help people, Wijeratne says one should not live a selfish life and should work toward serving the community. “Man’s greatest obligation is to help people and save humanity.”

“Anyone engaging in volunteering needs the willpower to deal with the many challenges including personal financial difficulties and mental anguish, but if we persist, the fulfilment we feel at the completion of a project remains with us till death.”

 Young Kumara, always believed that there was more to life than just personal gain. With his passion for social work being nurtured as a child, he knew that he had a role to play in alleviating his village from poverty and uplifting the community he lives in.

 

A part time IT teacher with the National Youth Council, Kumara’s interest in social work was ignited through the multiple extracurricular activities that he engaged in, at school. Every program he participated in as a child and later as a youth, influenced him to look at life, beyond himself, moulding him to become the young active youth leader he is today. Sunday school was another positive influence, which taught him to be considerate, to help those in need and to assist the community.

 

With numerous projects running simultaneously, Kumara saw the need to streamline the process, establishing the Kumara Ranasinghe Foundation in 2013. The foundation has since carried out many projects including awareness on drug abuse among youth, providing educational material for students from low income families, construction of a day-night handball court, a community centre and a playground at the Walagamba School among others across the Galgamuwa area.

 

In 2017, Kumara undertook the Kurandankulama water project, which sought to relieve the residents of Galgamuwa, suffering from severe drought, from this plight. The project identified 100 families, with over 500 individuals, who would have access to water 24 hour a day. His greatest challenge was funding. Though the Youth Parliament Society allocated  Rs. 150,000 for the project this wasn’t nearly enough to cover the projected cost of  Rs. 9.6 million.

 

He credits the support from the Divisional Secretariat, the community and their personal contacts and many other well-wishers, often acquainted through social media for the successful completion of the project.

 

Looking towards the future, Kumara is keen on addressing two big issues he believes would have the greatest impact on the community the first is the massive unemployment issues among the youth and the second is the human elephant conflict in the Galgamuwa area. For the Human-Elephant conflict, he has already developed a new device called 'Crop Protector' which was adjudged winner at a competition organized by the Inventors Commission of Sri Lanka. To help resolve the unemployment issue, he has already commenced planning for the launch of a vocational training centre for the youth.

 

Kumara who lives by the simple philosophy of ‘we reap what we sow', says volunteering for him is not about personal gain or for profit rather about personal fulfilment. “Anyone engaging in volunteering needs the willpower to deal with the many challenges including personal financial difficulties and mental anguish, but if we persist, the fulfilment we feel at the completion of a project remains with us till death.”

 

“There isn’t enough legislation to create a conducive environment for disabled people in society. We need to change that.”

 In 2002, a fatal road accident took the life of his father and left young Yaeesh in hospital with an ailing leg. What may have been curable at the time, took a turn for the worse due to medical negligence, rendering Yaeesh permanently disabled.

 

Being rendered immobile made this once active youngster feel dejected and desperate for a change in his environment that would allow him greater mobility and less dependency. His plight also made him more aware of the difficulties others with disabilities could be facing, prompting him to explore the issues and possible solutions to empower people with disabilities.

 

His new-found mission took him to a meeting of disabled persons in the area, where he soon realized that the community was much larger than he had ever imagined and that he had to do something to make their lives better.

 

Yaeesh took on an active role in the Nawasahana Disabled Peoples Organisation (DPO), which had begun in 2001, and was soon nominated as its Trustee. His vision for the community and his drive saw him appointed as its Chairperson shortly after.

 

His main objective is to lobby for the rights of disabled people in the area and to help improve their living conditions. He has also leveraged the support of local government agencies to obtain funds, though very limited, to construct basic access roads to the homes of disabled persons. Some of these were unmotorable, rough and dilapidated walking paths that have now been converted to flat gravel roads, allowing people like himself to traverse the terrain more easily.

 

Yaeesh has also collected several old computers to teach the youth with disabilities, including the visually impaired, basic computer skills. Some of these youth are now working from home and making a basic living transcribing documents and doing data entry work.

 

Through the DOP, Yaeesh hopes to lobby both the government, the private sector and the public to be more aware and accepting of the needs of disabled persons. “My fate could befall anyone, and an able-bodied individual could be rendered helpless in an unfortunate instance. I want to make people understand the importance of integrating disabled people into the mainstream and be more accepting of their needs, which in turn will service even the elderly.”

 

Yaeesh says his challenge now is to fight for the rights of the disabled. “There isn’t enough legislation to create a conducive environment for disabled people in society. We need to change that. Mobility is one of the main issues. While some buildings may have access, disabled people find it a challenge to get there and we need to address that. Despite each person’s disability, they too yearn for a life that is as normal as possible. It's up to society to accept them as they are and create an environment where they can be more independent, both economically and in their mobility.”

“It would be good if everybody would volunteer to help somebody. It would make the world a better place.”

A passion to help the elderly, the ailing and the less fortunate in a village that has now lovingly adopted her as their own, Nadeeka is redefining what rural healthcare should be.

 

A resident of Dodangoda, Nadeeka’s journey began in 2013 when she voluntarily undertook the opportunity to assist the Katugahena Rural Hospital’s resident doctor in maintaining records and correspondence.

 

Despite choosing Arts for her higher education, Nadeeka says she has always had a passion for nursing and caregiving, so she eagerly accepted the opportunity to work at the hospital. She says the hospital didn’t have much facilities or nurses when she started work, prompting her to help the doctors whenever possible, taking on the role of a nurse. This also motivated her to voluntarily explore how she could contribute towards the development of the hospital, helping to uplift it to the standard it is at today.

 

Her desire to help the sick and needy motivated her to learn on the job. “Through different training programmes conducted by several government organizations, I developed my skills and used what I learnt to help others. I used the knowledge I gained to develop the hospital. Most of the people from this village are not wealthy and endure a lot of hardship. All I want to do is uplift their lives anyway I can.”

 

Nadeeka’s determination to uplift the status and standard of the hospital saw her implementing the ‘5S’ productivity system, which resulted in the hospital winning accolades and garnering praise for its effort. “When I started working here there was only an OPD and no wards. I worked hard with the staff of the hospital to increase the efficiency, this led to us winning an award for productivity. The recognition the hospital got after winning the award, helped the hospital get the support we need to improve the facilities available.”

 

Her voluntary works spans across several areas, including nursing the elderly confined to the bed, establishing the hospital’s first ever non-communicable diseases unit, regularly conducting free health clinics and awareness campaigns about disease prevention and good food habits and creating a software that collects BMI details of patients.

 

Not limiting her service to developing the hospital, she also engages in creating job opportunities for women and youth who have dropped out of school in the village.

 

Nadeeka is grateful for the love, support and appreciation she has received so far, even though she is an outsider working towards the betterment of the village. “I spend most of my time in this village, because I love serving these people. I want to continue to help people and extend my voluntary services to the nearby villages as well.”

 

Motivated by her voluntary work in nursing and taking care of the sick, she is pursuing her education in Ayurveda, which she says will help her serve more people in time to come.

 

Nadeeka who volunteers out of love says she has never expected a monetary compensation, when helping others. “It would be good if everybody would volunteer to help somebody. It would make the world a better place.”

“As members of society, it is important to strengthen society, it is our responsibility no matter what we do.”

 Dr. Ranjan Mallawarachchi, a consultant surgeon, believes that a doctor's responsibility goes beyond prescribing medicine and the operating table. Pursuing this ideology, he became instrumental in introducing palliative care as a medical practice to Sri Lanka, with the goal of helping patients who are suffering from long term, terminal illnesses such as cancer to live despite their plight.

 

Having watched helplessly, the agony of a loved one suffering from an incurable disease, a younger Dr. Ranjan was motivated to learn more about end of life care and take up the cause of helping patients’ whom the medical system could not continue to support. “When the patient is suffering from a long-term illness that is incurable, hospitals wash their hands off them. They become helpless when they are sent home because there is no one to take care of them. We don’t have end of life care in Sri Lanka; it is not integrated in our medical system.”

 

He presented his concept for palliative care in 2011 to the Vavuniya Base Hospital, which was subsequently introduced to other districts including Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu. In 2015, he brought this concept to the Kuliyapitiya Teaching Hospital, initially treating 30 patients, which has now grown to support over 300 patients.

 

Realizing the growing need for palliative care Dr. Ranjan established an association, which is geared towards caring for more than the physical anguish the patient experiences. “We don't simply address physical pain through this program. We find solutions to the physical, psychological, social and spiritual problems that the patients undergo. These patients have a short time to live. We need to keep them happy. They need to be given a comfortable respectful death, without any pain or suffering.”

 

Dr. Rajan’s team includes a multitude of professionals both medical and non-medical, who support him to continue the effort of providing palliative care. While assuring their support to these patients’ Dr. Ranjan and his team don’t shy away from dealing with the inevitable. “We try our best, in our capacity, to help the patients embrace the reality and provide them the emotional support they need as well. We walk with the families until the end.”

 

Dr. Ranjan is now keen on creating palliative care teams in every district. He believes that as a citizen it is important to step up and take the initiative to make a difference and not wait for someone else to make a change. “As members of society, it is important to strengthen society, it is our responsibility, no matter what we do. That is when we can go forward as a country. All of us should make sacrifices towards strengthening society.”

Even if I make the smallest difference, it means a lot to me. Drug and alcohol addicts are also human they need to be treated with respect. If we help them, it is equal to lighting a lamp for the family.”

 Selvika Sahadevan is a lone warrior, fighting an arduous battle in a town that is not willing to acknowledge facts. Facts that indicate that it has the third highest rate of alcohol consumption, in the country after Jaffna and Nuwara Eliya. Adding to this is the rapidly increasing instances of drug abuse over the past two years.

 

Her initial experience of dealing with alcohol and drug addicts date back to her time working at the Batticaloa Psychosocial Centre, where she started awareness programmes on substance abuse and addiction. It wasn’t till 2005 however, that the groundwork for the Vimochana Home began with the visit of a Canadian Donor who identified the lack of a rehabilitation centre and propositioned Selvika to eventually start the Home in 2011.

 

Alcohol addiction was an issue that resonated personally with Selvika, having grown up with an alcoholic father. She recants that when the Vimochana Home was opened her friends and relatives felt addicts were a menace to society and they didn’t believe that, as a woman, she could do anything to help them. However, her family stood by her decision, through thick and thin.

 

What began as a pilot project, Vimochana Home now offers more than a safe place for drug and alcohol addicts to rehabilitate themselves. The residential program is 42 days long and accommodates up to 15 people at a time. Participants follow a syllabus and need to study several topics including addiction protocol. The centre also offers yoga lessons and maintains an organic home garden, which helps to keep the participants engaged in work and their mind's distracted. From 2011 to 2018 about 400 people have come to the centre, which currently boasts a 70 % success rate.

 

Selvika hopes to expand her scope of helping addicts even further, starting a centre for women. She strongly believes in the need to extend support to women as well. A safe house is another vision she hopes to realise, offering participants a place to find their footing before returning to their families. Her, other aspirations include an outpatient clinic for those who don’t have the time to be part of the residential programme and a vocational training programme to help youth, who are increasingly turning to drugs and alcohol to cope with unemployment and other issues.

 

Selvika who continues to create awareness about drug and alcohol abuse in schools and villages, says she hopes to continue the work she does for as long as she can. “I don't think I can stop what I am doing. I love the work that I do. Even if I make the smallest difference, it means a lot to me. Drug and alcohol addicts are also human they need to be treated with respect. If we help them, it also lights up the lives of their  family members.”

“With social service and volunteering, never expect something in return, the happiness you give someone is the biggest joy you can get.”

 At a very young age Shanaya had to endure the pain of losing her aunt to cancer. Grappling with grief after, she was determined to make a difference in the lives of others who were suffering from the same debilitating disease.

It was her childhood passion for photography that she would turn to, to find solace and to create a powerful movement that is comforting many a cancer patient today. Her mother being diagnosed with cancer later made the effort even more personal for her.

Emboldened by the support and encouragement from her parents, relatives and friends, Shanaya, who was only 10 at the time together with her 8 year-old sister, established Photocause in 2011, an initiative that primarily focuses on raising funds for better service and treatment facilities for cancer patients and an awareness programme that educates people on importance of cancer screening and early detection.

The initiative has now turned to a full-time passion, supported by an island-wide photography exhibition held every two years where amateur photographers submit their work. Two successful exhibitions later, over Rs. 500,000 in proceeds from the sale of the photographs have been channelled to the Cancer Society.

Furthering their cause, Shanaya launched the Awake and Click-off Cancer Awareness Programme in 2017. This included the publication and island wide distribution of the Awake Magazine, followed by a series of videos on early detection, cancer awareness and survivor stories. Her motto has always been to make people realize that cancer didn’t define who they were.

“We realized that the videos had a massive impact on people, with some reaching over 20,000 views. We believe that if it has an impact on at least 1% of that number, that is 200 people. Out of those people if we were able to persuade 20 people to screen for early detection, we have then impacted 20 lives and the many lives linked to them. With the feedback we have received, we know that lives have been impacted for the better.”

She has now set sights on a larger vision, planning an exhibition in March 2019, where 25 schools from across the island will take part in and help raise awareness on cancer screening. Her long term goal however, is to have cancer detection centres in every province by 2030. She is aware of the enormity of the task at hand but is confident that with the support of her family and well-wishers she will achieve her goal.

“Serving others shouldn't be an effort carried out in anticipation of rewards and recognition” says Shanaya who believes that even the smallest deed counts.  “You can always start small. If you try that's all that counts. With social service and volunteering, never expect something in return, the happiness you give someone is the biggest joy you can get”

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