In this deeply humane interview Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne evokes the Sarvodaya movement’s unchanged belief in the innate potential of every human being and unswerving commitment to support ‘the awakening of all’. Founded by his school teacher father, 62 years ago, Sarvodaya is the largest integrated community development organisation in Sri Lanka that aims at complete social transformation. As a physician specialised in public health, Dr Ariyaratne has been at the frontline of humanitarian response to disasters throughout his medical career: from civil war, to the 2004 tsunami, to post-conflict rehabilitation, to the current COVID crisis. He speaks admiringly of the remarkable resilience of people in affected communities despite unspeakable odds.
He underlines the importance of providing humanitarian and development aid that goes beyond providing merely services to respecting the dignity of each individual, and creating non-hierarchical relationships of equality and empathy. He says: “we must be part of them, create relationships that are equal, with no power dynamics”. Sarvodaya has been a pioneer in transformative holistic education and Dr Ariyaratne describes the vision and mission of the Sarvodaya Institute for Higher Learning (SIHL), established at Sarvodaya’s 50th anniversary.
SIHL recognises and champions natural leaders at all levels of society, and supports their internal awakening through a holistic combination of deep learning in ecology, scientific knowledge, indigenous knowledge, intangible and tacit knowledge, and spiritual values. Finally, Dr Ariyaratne speaks poignantly of the family home in which he grew up, nurtured by a spirit of solidarity and service to society. He speaks of the large home donated to Sarvodaya when he was young, which became the movement’s headquarters and a shared home to over 150 community members.
Growing up in such an extended home, family and movement deeply shaped his own values, and forged his commitment to community service and to simple living. He concludes with a powerful evocation of the future of the ‘Home for Humanity’ movement: rooted above all, in shared values, oneness with nature, respect for diversity, and the spirit of family between all humanity.