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Fighting the Invisible Enemy: Sarvodaya’s Emergency Response to COVID -19

Since 13th March 2020 Sri Lanka has been under some form of lockdown or curfew, creating fear and panic buying, which has resulted to a shortage of essential items.

GNRC member, Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, was one of the first civil society organizations to respond to the food crisis. Through the leadership of Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne, a public health specialist and President of Sarvodaya, the organization has been in the frontline in sensitizing the community and its employees on basic preventive measures including hand washing and sanitation practices and encouraging organizations to work from home. Sarvodaya also began a risk education program via social media on COVID-19 as per the guidelines given by the State Health Authorities and WHO. Through tools like videos and posters, the organization has shared vital health related information to the public.

Similarly, Sarvodaya District Coordinators are working with the relevant state authorities to reach out to the community to provide awareness and moral support and address any concerns related to the pandemic. Sarvodaya equally offered its residential and training facilities to the Sri Lanka Government to be used as quarantine centers. At present the government is using two Sarvodaya centers for this purpose. Amidst this crisis, Sarvodaya prioritized its children’s home, elders’ homes and teenage mothers’ homes to ensure their safety and wellbeing; and also ensure smooth functioning of the homes during the curfew/lockdown.

While attending to its multiple responsibilities, Sarvodaya collaborated with local civil society organizations and the local government to attend to some of the immediate needs of the most affected members of the community including sanitation. It has distributed dry ration foods to daily wage earners, provided facemasks and protective kits to hospitals, and provided refreshment packs to medical staff at selected government hospitals. So far 1,350 dry ration packs have been distributed but the organization aims to distribute at least 3,150 more. The top management of Sarvodaya is constantly monitoring its ground activities through Microsoft team calls.

To combat the pandemic, Sarvodaya developed situational analysis reports, and developed a short term, medium term, and long-term response plan. Due to the crisis, Sarvodaya has been entrusted with the responsibility of overseeing 400 state-run children’s homes in the country. Sarvodaya is working closely with UNICEF and religious leaders especially in relation to positive social media messaging and risk education.