Sunday, February 20, 2011


Ayubowan is a common Sri Lankan greeting that is spoken while clasping the hands and slightly bowing. It means "May you live long." We learned this piece of culture today from one of our presenters, Lalith “Leftie” Gunaratne, who is a trainer/facilitator who specializes in team building, employee training, business, and renewable energy in Sri Lanka. Lalith also has roots in Canada having spent a number of years growing up in the Toronto region before moving back home again.

This morning we travelled to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) Public Support Unit (PSU) office in Colombo. We were very grateful for the learning opportunity provided to us by Lalith who truly seemed to know everything that there is to know about Sri Lanka; its history, international relations, NGOs, government operations and policies that have worked or failed, the economy, etc. It took no time at all to grasp just how passionate he is about Sri Lanka and the opportunities for development and continued increase in the quality of life for all of it’s people.

Photo: Lalith “Leftie” Gunaratne at the PSU in Colombo.

Some memorable points of interest from Laliths’ talk included:

  • He created a solar panel installation business in the 80’s that brought solar electricity to many rural areas of Sri Lanka that previously had no power source, or who had to rely on transporting batteries to charging stations weekly.
  • Women played a key roll in the uptake of this new technology from household to household.
  • 80% of the population now has access to electricity.
  • Over 95% of Sri Lankans are literate.
  • In some areas of Sri Lanka many of the mothers move to take advantage of job opportunities in the Middle East, having to leave behind their family for long periods of time.
  • Some of Sri Lanka’s key exports are rice, tea, coconut, rubber, cinnamon, and other spices.

Photo: The CDF Study Tour group learning about Sri Lanka.

Next we received a briefing from Pierre Heroux who is a representative from CIDA and a Counsellor (development) & Head of Aid with the Canada High Commision. Pierre provided an overview of CIDA priorities and projects around the world as well as their development contributions in Sri Lanka. Canada has committed $6m for the next 5 years and has previously contributed $135m towards tsunami relief efforts. SANASA, a significant multi-stakeholder co-operative complex which is supported by CCA, received 9.6m through CIDA towards 3 different projects. There has also been $26.7m of humanitarian aid contributed by Canada through the UN, Red Cross, and other Canadian NGOs towards rebuilding efforts following the civil war which ended in 2009.

Photo: Pierre Heroux speaks to the group.

Some CIDA projects operating in Sri Lanka aim to identify vulnerable groups and provide microfinancing opportunities to empower individuals, provide vocational training (which would provide credentials that are recognized throughout the nation), as well as a national language program. Things are starting to look hopeful. Since the end of the civil war the economy has been growing at a rate of 8% per year and indicators such as tourism are up.

What a morning! And what an exceptional learning opportunity for all of us! We are so grateful to Lalith and Pierre for taking the time to speak with us. The group is energized and looking forward to spending some time over the next week with organizations who have benefited and grown because of the contributions of CCA, CIDA, SANASA, and partner organizations in Sri Lanka.

By: Mark Sparrow

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