Update :: Gandhian-Style Revolution

11 years ago in YES! ...

Sharif Abdullah, former board member of YES!, wrote about his visit to the headquarters of the Sri Lankan Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement where he found “what many of us in the States and other places in the world talk about: a true Gandhian-style people’s economic revolution.” At the time, Sarvodaya included water and solar energy projects, a school for the deaf, a library, legal services, orphanages, and 104 village banks. These banks, wrote Abdullah, “lie at the heart of a development plan that harnesses the strength of the village instead of saddling it with crippling debt.”


Sarvodaya Shanthi Sena youth at work in Trincomalee. In the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, Trincomalee was a focal point for relief efforts on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka.
Photo courtesy sarvodaya.org

Sarvodaya is preparing to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Since Abdullah’s article appeared in YES!, the group has extended its reach from 8,000 to 15,000 villages. The 104 village banks have turned into 5,000, and Sarvodaya has achieved its goal of becoming the largest micro-credit organization in Sri Lanka. The movement’s growth is all the more impressive since it was accomplished against a backdrop of a civil war that has been raging since 1983 and the devastating 2004 tsunami.

What continues to set Sarvodaya apart is that it sees personal awakening as a foundation for economic justice and equity. Sarvodaya is “trying to build a new society,” according to Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne, founder of the movement. “First, we develop the individual, then [achieve] family awakening, then village awakening, then self government, then national awakening, then world awakening.”

When asked to identify some of the more significant achievements in the past decade, Richard Brooks, board chair of Sarvodaya USA, spoke about the scores of peace meditations involving more than 2 million people that Sarvodaya has convened over the years. He also described the growth of the village banking system; the expansion of social services, like Ma Sevana, a home and refuge for girls who are victims of sexual abuse and rape; the meditation programs for people ranging from mothers-to-be to prisoners; the further development of Sarvodaya’s legal advocacy for the poor; and the Deshodaya program which explores ways to end the years of violent conflict.

Sarvodaya’s peace efforts include Shanthi Sena, a peace brigade of more than 120,000 youth working for unity among Sri Lanka’s ethnic and religious groups through peace camps, peace dialogues, exchange programs, education, and leadership programs. Sarvodaya has established 10 Peace Resource Centers; the newest one is in the northeast city of Trincomalee, a community that includes a variety of ethnic and religious groups and where tensions are running high after decades of war. The center offers resources and workshops on conflict resolution, job skills, and information technology.

Kristin Carlsen wrote this article as part of Sustainable Happiness, the Winter 2009 issue of YES! Magazine. Kristin is a YES! editorial intern.

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YES! Archives: See our original story on Sarvodaya. It’s one of more than 2,500 YES! Magazine articles in our searchable online archive.

Photo of Kristin Carlsen
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