What does Sarvodaya Shramadana mean?
Sarvodaya is a compound word derived from two Sanskrit words “Sarvam” and “Udayam” meaning “all” and “enlightenment” respectively. It was forged by Mahatma Gandhi. Shramadana is also a compound word: “shrama” means thought, effort and resources, and “dana” means sharing. The literal meaning of Sarvodaya Shramadana is the awakening of all by the sharing of its time, its efforts and its resources. The goal of our movement is the awakening of all living beings through shared work. We want to achieve a transformation of society by ending poverty and conflict. Make peace triumph in our country, but also between countries and in the rest of the world. This ideal can be practiced anywhere on the planet by any group or community.
What was the situation in Sri Lanka when you started this movement in 1958?
When we started our activities, we realized that, despite the 450 years of colonization that we had suffered in Sri Lanka, in many remote villages or ignored by the authorities, the Buddhist philosophy had remained alive. Having become a teacher, I decided to dedicate my life to helping the most disadvantaged to get out of poverty. Economic injustice generates poverty and a feeling of powerlessness which are at the root of violence. Sarvodaya was born in 1958. At the time, I was leading a group of students from Colombo. I was convinced that we should be inspired by the teachings of the Buddha and transcribe them in our actions in favor of the development and well-being of populations.
Concretely, how did you want to act?
We wanted to launch a popular movement, a movement to raise awareness that rises above all divisions of race, religion, gender, socio-economic level. We called on Sri Lankans to donate ten days of their time each year to help the poorest villages. We were inspired by the ideas set out by Gandhi in 1909 in Hind Swaraj, his manifesto in favor of a republic of autonomous villages. Only the consolidation of the economic and political autonomy of the villages could, in his eyes, contribute to the construction of a non-violent society. We started by organizing camps of a few weeks in the poorest villages. There were students, employees, farmers, civil servants who gave their time and contributed their skills.
“In Sarvodaya Shramadana, development is not measured in terms of per capita income, gross national product or GDP growth rate. It is a mystification to want to make all men rich. »
Our objective was to promote the autonomy of the villages, to pool existing resources by mobilizing the villagers in the service of their own development. It was the beneficiary populations who designed their own development plans. At the end of the 1960s, we realized that we did not want the Western mode of development which was beginning to spread throughout the world. In Sarvodaya Shramadana, development is not measured in terms of per capita income, gross national product or GDP growth rate. It is a mystification to want to make all men rich. We want to build a society that is neither rich nor poor.
Where is Sarvodaya Shramadana today?
Today we work with 15 villages out of the 000 on the island. Communities are encouraged to awaken their potential by sharing work and involving as many people as possible. The awakening must intervene above all at the level of the individuals, but also of the village, the community and the nation. The villages are assisted by 36 local centers, 000 district centers and 355 educational institutes at the national level. These structures provide training in facilitation and leadership, as well as specialized training. We have also designed programs to support motherhood and early childhood. In terms of economic development, we have created a network of 34 local banks that offer microcredits to families. We are doing everything we can to promote the autonomy of these villages, their emancipation. A social, economic and technological emancipation, but also and above all a spiritual emancipation. Without this spiritual work, a nonviolent movement like ours cannot progress. Peace and the eradication of poverty remain our goals. We have built an alternative, theoretical and practical, which offers the world another form of development of communities and nations. I am convinced that if our government and the private sector follow the development plan we have built, Sri Lanka could eradicate poverty by 12.
You insist on raising awareness. How do you help awaken them?
Development is not limited to ensuring decent food and clean water for the population. It is also a work of awakening compassion, love and autonomy in hearts. When we give our time to build a school or a clinic, we are also building ourselves. We are convinced that our movement rooted in Buddhist and "Gandhi" values can change consciences. All the activities, all the meetings that we have been organizing for nearly sixty years are preceded by a short period of meditation. In 2008, in the holy city of Anuradhapura, one million people meditated together. The roots of the civil war that we have known in Sri Lanka were planted 500 years ago during the colonization of the island. Healing our country will probably take us just as much time