Wednesday 27 May 2015 at 23:03The "Gandhi of Sri Lanka"
by Sean A. Watkins, OurVoices
The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami is regarded as the worst natural disaster of the 21st century.* Killing over 230,000 people, the storm hit Indian ocean coastal communities with waves up to 30m (100ft) high, taking with them miles of shoreline that cannot be replaced.
In our current climate crisis, powerful storm surges like these are one of the most immediate threats we face from climate change. In Sri Lanka, the 2nd-hardest hit nation after Indonesia in 2004, Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne has led the largest indigenous organisation working on reconstruction in the region from the tsunami.
As founder and president of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, Dr. Ari serves over 15,000 diverse village communities for development, peace, and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.
A school teacher by profession, Dr. Ari founded the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement in 1958 as an “education experiment” to help local villages. Since then, he has based the movement on Buddhist and Gandhian principles—the word “shramadana” meaning a “gift of labour.”
Known by those who consider him a mentor as the “Gandhi of Sri Lanka,” Dr. Ari has received numerous awards for peacekeeping, including the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, the Gandhi Peace Prize from the government of India, and the Sri Lankabhimanya, Sri Lanka’s highest National Honour.
As we reflect on what is at stake to lose if we do not act on climate, we celebrate Dr. Ari for his leadership in community development in climate affected communities.
Directly after the 2004 tsunami, Sarvodaya built an eco-village as a model of sustainable design and livelihood to rehabilitate tsunami affected families (see video below). We thank Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne for his leadership in climate affected communities, and we are happy to have him join OurVoices as a Spiritual Ambassador.