Smile Sri Lanka


As I scroll through my news feed, I’m overwhelmed by the vast number of charities delivering supplies to the people
affected by the latest natural disaster to hit Sri Lanka in May. I see the usual: UN, Red Cross and now the US Embassy has pledged $250,000 to $300,000 in total – that’s fantastic. What I’m most struck by is the ordinary everyday people rallying together to give what is needed. Small organisations which started as a few friends wanting to give back, or an expat on a working holiday. And these smaller groups are driven by transparency and a desire
for 100% of the donations to reach their recipients: you won’t find fancy staff parties or admin costs.

Let’s fast forward a few weeks from the initial devastation. Waters have receded in many areas. The immediate needs of the people in flood and landslide affected regions have changed. What is referred to as “Stage 2” is underway with clean-up, medical and sanitisation efforts in full swing. The final phase, Stage 3, is the placing of people back on track to where they were before their lives were turned upside down. Bigger more expensive donations will be needed to ensure this: rain water tanks, sewage tanks, furniture, refrigerators, washing machines, household utensils and more. If these people are to return to their jobs and send their children off to school, modes of transport must be restored. As Girish Atmaram, president of the Rotary Club of Kandy, sums up, “My experience in disaster management has been that there is an initial overkill then a long pause of inactivity. Reconstruction, resuming of schools and classes, childcare, hygiene – are all put on the back burner.”

The Rotary Club of Kandy has launched a disaster relief programme collecting funds from donators and foreign Rotary Clubs. As with other aid initiatives, the Club will have to decide how to best allocate these funds. The same decision must be made by us, the general public. We wish to keep on giving, but find it somewhat confusing who is best to support and how to get the biggest bang for our buck.


We all drop coins out into those collection boxes by the cash registers and like to think it gives someone a hot meal, or a new pair of shoes for a needy child. What we don’t want to see done with our cash, is it being spent on new furniture for the office headquarters or the managing director to receive a pay rise and fancy new car. Corruption within organisations and selfserving interests – these are the concerns running through donators minds. This is why it becomes the people for the people. During times of disaster, volunteers have saved the country millions. In 2014, the first ever national survey on volunteerism in Sri Lanka was undertaken with 15,000 people from all districts. The survey showed that a staggering 40% of the people were engaged in volunteering activities in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan people are truly a nation of givers: it’s a proven fact!

Smile Sri Lanka
Smile Sri Lanka – Photograph Courtesy of Vivek Jayasuriya

Choosing who to donate our time or money to can be a daunting process. What’s the most effective way to ensure our aid is delivered directly? Vivek Jayasuriya, founder of the children’s charity Smile Sri Lanka, gives this advice to people wanting to donate but unsure where to start: “Get in touch; find the specific requirements; buy LOCAL”. Smile Sri Lanka has well over 150 volunteers and is proud of having zero admin costs – you give: it gets there. The group made an impact to many flood affected families by their swiftness to mobilise a team via appealing for help on social media pages. Aside from donations of dry rations, Smile’s request was quite specific: we need kayakers! Smile was successful and rallied a group of volunteers with sea kayaks to deliver goods to stranded families who were unreachable by road vehicles. Once on the ground, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. These men navigated polluted waterways, only to hit a dry patch and be forced to into the dirty deep again. Navigating who to trust was also a bumpy ride. The group found valuable and trusted allies in the local militia and naval officers who proved themselves as the good guys. This took some time to work out, after initially facing the run around from influential individuals located in the towns. These people touted themselves as being involved in the relief effort, only to be noticed dropping off donated packages to their home and personal store rooms or taking part in photo opportunities but not actually helping out in any way. With such activities, it is easy to see why we become cynical and wary about parting with our money for supposed charitable reasons.

The Cause

The biggest nation-wide cause at present is for the victims of flood and landslide. It is crucial to act quickly and be S.M.A.R.T. about the target (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time oriented). This is an extremely useful organisational acronym for business and education, but one which also applies to the current disaster. Some are saying these regions need to be cleared up and back on their feet within four weeks at a maximum. If this is to happen, then targets must be set and they must be specific.

As a donator, I know I feel most empowered when I give for a very specific outcome. I know of seventy families without homes, who have sought shelter in a church in a flood affected area and need help. I have asked if the number and ages of the children in this shelter can be determined. I’ve worked out I can afford to donate ten school bags and fill them with basic school supplies. After I know the precise total number of children, I will next ask my friends and acquaintances here and abroad to either donate money or purchase the bags themselves until we reach the target.

Kindness Collective
Kindness Collective – Photograph Courtesy of Jessica Ferrari

This way of S.M.A.R.T. targeting is what Jessica Ferrari did when she set about to make 50 med-packs to deliver to flood victims. Jessica founded a non-profit animal welfare organisation, Kindness Collective, but after the floods, she quickly channelled her efforts towards flood relief. Soon, she found her small and specific goal had spiralled into something much bigger. “This was never going to be such a big effort. I started this as a small project for myself… Then, when my friends heard I was collecting stuff, they wanted to help pack and distribute. Anim8 heard about it… They wanted to know if they could help in any way and offered their office which is a central location as a collection point. Eventually, it became this large operation with requests for med packs coming through and people supplying us with medicine.” Jessica and her team wound up completing a whopping 534 med-packs for Jessica’s charity and an additional 200 packs for the Global Shapers Community, a young leadership group for people aged 20 to 30, to also donate.

ASEAN Ladies and Indonesian Women's Associations
ASEAN Ladies and Indonesian Women’s Associations – Photograph Courtesy of Catherine Macarthur-Jones

ASEAN Ladies Circle and the Indonesian Women’s Association, is yet another example of a people seeing a need and digging deep to fill it. While these groups are typically centred around cultural and social activities for the women, contact was made with embassy friends who advised of items needed to get people back to normal. The ladies allocated club funds, but also sought personal donations from club members. Within a matter of days, the women had delivered well over thirty heavy boxes and personally presented them to the Sri Lankan Navy.

How can you help?

Smile Sri Lanka

Kindness Collective

The Voice Foundation

Friends in Need