A helping hand
Sri Lanka is known as a land of smiling people. It is difficult to
find a Sri Lankan who does not care to flash a smile despite being
assailed by various rigours of life. Sri Lankans are also known for
their hospitality. It is said that a Sri Lankan would entertain even an
enemy who visits his or her home, with a cup of tea. As if these two
attributes were not enough, Sri Lankans take the time to genuinely care
for others and help those in need.
Sri Lanka was earlier placed high in a list of countries with 'happy'
people. Now Sri Lanka has earned the rare distinction of being ranked
eighth in a Gallup poll of civic engagement in 130 countries, measuring
individuals' likelihood to volunteer their time and assistance to
Sri Lanka scored 51 percent while India which ranked 48th scored 28
percent in the global list topped by the United States at 60 percent
followed by Ireland with the same score and Australia in the third place
with 59 percent. Pakistan was ranked 27th with a score of 42 percent
while Nepal was placed 40th with 30 percent.
The Gallup poll showed people with high civic engagement are positive
about the communities where they live and actively give back to them.
Respondents were asked whether they have done any of the following in
the past month: donated money to a charity, volunteered time to an
organization, or helped a stranger or someone they didn't know who
This is a remarkable achievement that confirms what we have known all
along - that Sri Lankans are literally on the top of the world when it
comes to helping others. Philanthropy and altruism are at the very heart
of Sri Lankan culture. Buddhism itself and a civilization based on
Buddhism have played a major role in shaping our society to come
together in a time of crisis or distress.
Sri Lankans feel the pain of others and somehow try to help, within
their financial constraints. If they cannot help financially, they will
strive to help in some other manner.
One need not be rich to help others - we have seen even the poorest
of the poor volunteering their time and energy for a good cause. This is
the very core of the 'Shramadana' (spending one's energy for a worthy
social cause) concept, which is very popular at village level. In a
Shramadana, virtually all the villagers would gather together to
volunteer their time and energy for a given cause - to build a road,
clear a shrub jungle, repair a house etc.
The villagers would share the local gossip and a home-cooked meal,
not to mention several pots of steaming hot tea, and get the job done
with no effort at all.
A prime example of Sri Lankans' propensity to help others was the
2004 tsunami where Sri Lankans shed all differences to help their
brethren in distress. The humanitarian response was indeed massive, as
Sri Lankans collected relief materials swiftly and volunteered to help
the victims. There was no monetary gain whatsoever to the people who
volunteered to help those in distress - only the sheer satisfaction that
they had done something good.
The very same response is being seen at the moment when many
districts of the country are facing heavy floods. Truckloads of various
items donated by generous members of the public were swiftly sent to the
affected areas. There is no publicity for the donors, for they remain
anonymous, but there are no words to describe their happiness.
Sri Lankans do go out of the way to help total strangers, sometimes
risking their own lives. Such individuals are recognized and rewarded at
the Annual Civilian Bravery Awards. One of the winners last year was a
nine-year-old boy who had saved four people from drowning in a raging
river. He himself could have been drowned while trying to help others,
but that thought had apparently never entered his mind. Ordinary
individuals do extraordinary things everyday to help others - mostly
people they do not even know.
On an individual level, there is always a good response to newspaper
notices seeking financial help for surgeries. Again, the donors get no
publicity in the press but it is all for the noble cause of saving a
life or restoring someone's sight or hearing. We have even seen
instances when the affected party has to publish another notice in the
newspapers, announcing that funds are no longer needed as the operation
has been successfully conducted.
Apart from donating funds, a large number of Sri Lankans donate blood
regularly and many have signed up to donate corneas and organs.
There is also a good response in the case of live donor transplants
especially for kidneys. Many companies and individuals regularly donate
equipment and other materials to hospitals.
Sri Lanka does not have an endless list of charities like some other
countries do. But there are healthy contributions to the active
charities and institutions that care for the elderly, destitute and
orphaned children. For example, donors line up months in advance to
provide meals for inmates of such institutions.
If there is a lacuna, it is that Sri Lanka needs more charities that
work in the field of animal welfare which may enable us to save certain
endangered species and stop cruelty to domesticated/work animals.
There must be a proper mechanism to register all charities and
monitor their work, to ensure that public contributions are channeled
towards the intended purpose(s). There should also be a clear line of
differentiation between Non Governmental Organisations and charities.
There may be instances where the two may be one and the same, but
overall, they must be treated as different entities.
Civic engagement may be a new term, but its meaning has been known to
Sri Lankans for thousands of years. The streak for helping others is in
their very blood. It doesn't always cost money to help other people and
when it does, it is always for a worthy cause.
As per the laws of life, you gain something (material or spiritual)
when you give and share. It would not be surprising if Sri Lanka makes
it to the very top of this important list.