Sarvodaya at 50 Celebrates its Accomplishments and honors its own Educator, Diplomat, and Author in the United States
Colombo, 18 December, (Asiantribune.com): Long before Grameen Bank became a model for inspiration for millions of Bangladesh's rural poor, Sri Lanka has its own Sarvodaya rural micro-banking system. The Sarvodaya idea had been a motivation for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Muhammad Yunus to launch the world-renowned micro-lending program. For Sarvodaya, which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, it is more than banking. Sarvodaya founder Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne, the "Gandhi of Sri Lanka," wants to awaken each villager's human personality based on Gandhian non-violence principles.
Sarvodaya has built over 4,000 village roads, 7,500 preschools, and 8,000 wells and water systems for more than 370,000 people in 11,000 villages. Sarvodaya has also trained over 200,000 health workers, developed a Youth Peace Brigade with 120,000 members, and worked with over one million volunteers in the Gandhian spirit of "Shramadana," the donation of free labor.
One of those volunteers is Professor Patrick Mendis, who is now a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and vice president of Osgood Center for International Studies in Washington, D.C. During his formative years, Mendis grew up with water buffalos in a three-acre rice farm in the medieval capital city of Polonnaruwa. As a teenager, he volunteered to clean the roads and build toilets in this tourist city that is famous for Reverend Thomas Merton's "enlightenment" episode, which the visiting Catholic documented in his Asian Journal. The young farm boy's shramadana experience was an introduction to Sarvodaya and his future mentor and friend, Dr. Ari, whom he now calls "Ari Ayya," elder brother, in Sanskrit.
Last week, more than 5,000 village leaders on the island and dignitaries around the world gathered in Colombo to celebrate the anniversary. Dr. Ari presented numerous awards to those who contributed to Sarvodaya, Sri Lanka, and the global community. In addition to Professor Mendis' Sarvodaya Vishamitra Award, Chancellor Sam Wijesinghe of the Open University of Sri Lanka and the Most Venerable Dr. Walpola Piyananda of the Los Angeles Buddhist Temple received awards for their contribution and leadership. A number of other distinguished leaders from Bangladesh, India, Germany, Japan, Norway, Singapore, and Switzerland was also honored.
Professor Mendis' Sarvodaya journey has been chronicled in the Stone Soup for the World: Life-Changing Stories of Everyday Heroes, along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jimmy Carter, and Nelson Mandela. "I am just a village boy from Polonnaruwa. But there are several thousands of young villagers who were inspired by Ari Ayya and his Gandhian ideas," said Mendis from Washington, D.C.
Ambassador Shaun Donnelly, former U.S. envoy to Sri Lanka, had worked with Sarvodaya. When he returned to the State Department, he had the opportunity to work with Mendis. For his forthcoming book, Trade for Peace, the ambassador writes, "Dr. Patrick Mendis is one of our most original thinkers on global economic issues . . . and his impressive experiences as a scholar, a U.S. diplomat, and a world-traveling professor to give us new understanding of the interrelationships among history, economics, culture, and international relations."
From the proceeds of his previous books and other fund raising efforts, the Harvard-, Minnesota-, and Polonnaruwa-educated Mendis has established a number of tsunami scholarships and a Peace Prize at Sarvodaya. As a volunteer, he now serves as the president of the Educate Lanka Foundation and on the Sarvodaya USA board.
- Asian Tribune -