“As much as the reality of the pandemic and death looms, people would rather die from COVID than continue to be unable to feed their families,” said Diordre Moraes, resource mobilisation manager of Sri Lanka-based LEADS, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to creating safe spaces for the country’s vulnerable children.
This is a common sentiment amongst disadvantaged Sri Lankans amidst the currently subsiding third wave which has further exacerbated the already crippling economic impact of COVID-19 within the nation. Since the pandemic began, Sri Lanka’s biggest industries – tourism and tea production – have come to a halt during the imposed lockdowns, which have greatly impacted the workforce, the majority of whom are daily-wage earners on the low-income end of the spectrum.
Diordre shared, “The other day I was talking to a security guard at one of the supermarkets and she said to me, ‘Where do people like us turn to? The first thing companies do is knock down our salary, no allowances or overtime. How on earth do we manage?’ As much as people are aware that the country needs to be locked down because of COVID, the biggest concern is the economy and survival. People have too many problems to worry about beyond COVID.”
According to Diordre, these communities are living in fear and uncertainty, particularly since the cost of living in Sri Lanka has increased over the past year. On her trips to do the grocery shopping for her household, Diordre herself has noticed how either the prices of groceries have gone up or the quantities have reduced as compared to the past. Not only that, even in LEADS’ efforts to support the neglected populations, the spike in the cost of commodities is evident.
An existing partner of RYTHM Foundation, LEADS has been working towards strengthening the families and communities of children at risk through sustainable community interventions to reduce their vulnerability to abuse, poverty, and socio-natural disasters. Since the pandemic hit, much of their efforts have been focused around ensuring the survival and nutrition of these disadvantaged communities.
“Where other organisations would take some time to review our requests, RYTHM Foundation approved our request for a budget to purchase and distribute dry rations to these communities almost immediately. Time is of the essence here because the prices of things are escalating at an alarming rate, sometimes within the week,” said Diordre.
In the first phase of the COVID-19 response when Sri Lanka went into a 50-day lockdown in 2020, LEADS supported over 1,500 families by providing dry ration packs. In the latest third wave of the virus, there have been even more requests for dry rations with the vulnerable communities unable to afford the rising cost of commodities and worrying about their survival. While the government has given out coupons or packs worth 5,000 rupees to help these communities, there are areas the rations have not reached, and they have no support whatsoever.
Dry ration packs provided to the Mullaithivu district by LEADS with the support of RYTHM
With the funding from RYTHM Foundation, LEADS is now able to supply the Mullaithivu district, where 200 families will receive dry ration packs to carry them forward. The population of the district, like the rest of the north and east of Sri Lanka, have been heavily affected by the civil war. It is one of the poorest districts in the nation and it is familiar to RYTHM Foundation through a past venture that was previously initiated in this region, namely a social enterprise project involving Compressed Stabilised Earth Bricks (CSEB).
The CSEB yard manufactures eco-friendly bricks, an alternative building material to cement blocks
RYTHM has collaborated with LEADS since 2019 to set up a CSEB yard that manufactures the eco-friendly bricks which are an alternative building material to cement blocks. All raw materials used in the production are responsibly sourced and the bricks are cured in the sun instead of in furnaces fired by wood, thereby preventing deforestation and air pollution. The yard created job opportunities for the community in Mullaithivu and helped to lessen the deprivation within the area.
The CSEB yard has halted operations since the lockdown in Sri Lanka
When the pandemic hit and Sri Lanka went under lockdown, the yard was forced to stop operations, leaving many families without a means of earning an income. LEADS has continued to aid these communities since the pandemic started; however, their resources began to be stretched thin as they also continue to support several child development centres. That’s when LEADS made an appeal and RYTHM stepped up to lend a hand.
“Before we could even ask, RYTHM had queried about the status of the workers in the yard and when we told them it’s a struggle, they were ready to assist us. The biggest advantage in working with RYTHM Foundation is that they are very flexible, and unlike typical donors, they have built a relationship with us where we have regular conversations. The frequent interaction with RYTHM is a huge benefit to us and our communities,” said Diordre.
The 200 dry ration packs sponsored by RYTHM contain Samba or Nadu rice, lentils, oil, soya meat, salt, tea leaves, blended cereals and spices including chilli powder and curry powder. Twenty of these packs are allocated for the workers from the yard while the rest have been distributed to the community around the CSEB project location.
A worker of the now closed CSEB yard happily received dry ration support from LEADS & RYTHM.
“We are thankful to have a partner who is willing to look at the needs of the community and provide us with the relevant support to sustain them, especially during these tough times,” Diordre expressed.