A Worthy Cause

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The skyrocketing price hike of essential goods and services have been affecting the communities on a large scale. The society has been sandwiched between the economic crisis and the politicians who would do ‘anything and everything’ to hold onto power like a tussle in a game of tug of war. Reportedly, a theft on an old woman who was carrying a loaf of bread to feed her family, was a bystander affected by social frustration. Similar incidents including a murder in a fuel queue, calls for a bigger picture of a society which has been pushed to the wall; a wake up call for what potentially befalls the once peaceful and peace-loving society.

The Sarvodaya and Singularity
Sri Lanka Crisis Management Centre (SSCMC) have since come forward to respond and attend to such wakeup calls by collaborating to combat the upcoming food shortage in Sri Lanka through the implementation of the concept ‘Community Kitchens’.

What is Community Kitchen?

 A Community Kitchen is a group of people who meet on a regular basis to plan, cook and share healthy, affordable meals. Community Kitchen Groups are for everyone, held on a regular basis, usually weekly or fortnightly. It is participant-driven, and all participants are actively involved in the planning, preparation and cooking food.

SSCMC took the initiative to introduce this concept in order to combat the upcoming food crisis where the locals of each area can contribute and prepare meals together and share it with the less fortunate. 

Partnering with the Sarvodaya, they are also planning to extend it by implementing community gardening in rural areas where crops including vegetables could be grown from the own community and from its harvest,
well-cooked meals could be distributed  to everyone, especially for the ones who cannot afford it.

Benefits of a Community Kitchen

There are many benefits to Community Kitchens, including the increase access to healthy meals, help the community to develop life skills such as growing of fresh food, budgeting, meal planning, cooking and social skills and support members of the community to connect and start new friendships. SSCMC believes that crisis situations can be confronted with friendship and fellowship built around social interaction.

Addressing the media, the Sarvodaya, Chairman Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne noted that selected groups of people in low-income families such as pregnant mothers, adults above the age of 55 and children under the age of 15 would be provided with a meal, on a weekly basis.

SSCMC, Founder, Manju Nissanka stated as an early initiative they have selected three main venues and the starting project was held, on 31 May at Abeysinharama Temple, Panchikawatta.

Why do we need Community Kitchens?

Sarvodaya Chairman Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne noted that according to the United Nations Food Programme, the income of Sri Lankan household has reduced to ‘2/3 ratio’; as a result,  the number of meals and the potion sizes of each and every individual in these households have correspondingly reduced.

“This has affected many children under the age of five with malnutrition. It is the age where the brain grows. If they do not get the required nutrition at this age they will be physically and mentally weak.  The school meal programme for children and the ‘Thriposha packet’ that was given to the pregnant mothers has also been stopped. Such programmes were mainly focused on low-income families to remedy and avoid cases of malnutrition. Now, the government has stopped these ‘nutritious relievers’, it can affect them in a big way. Of late. a large size of the population has been categorised below the poverty line owing to the social, political economic crises in our country. In fact, the economic crisis has given rise to social and humanitarian crisis in no time. We, as part and parcel of the community should take all necessary measures to prevent it,” stressed, Dr. Ariyaratne.

Continuity of this Concept

The SSCMC has chosen three locations in the urban areas, where humanitarian work would continue for six months; the initial project took place at the Panchikawatta Abeysinharamaya, on 31 May, and thereafter on every Wednesday. Work on the second location at the Wellampitiya Masjid, set off the ground  on 4 June and would continue every Saturday. The third location is St. Joseph’s Church, Grandpass where the said project started on 6 June, and would continue every Monday.

How is it going to help to combat the crises?

Social Activist, Sujith Annamale, addressing the press briefing to create awareness of these projects was critical in stating that the stakeholders who came to power promising ‘National Security’ are not even in a position to provide at least to secure the basic  ‘Food Security’ to the nation. 

“We should remember that if a country is being pushed to a state to hold such projects to feed their society and safeguard communities, it is something that we should be highly concerned of and given serious thought. When hunger strikes harder in the society and people start to witness their children crying in distress due to hunger pangs and their loved ones are becoming weak and feeble being deprived of food, people will tend to steal and feed themselves. Hunger has a strong possibility of creating a restless environment in the society and lead to lawlessness. As a social activist, I believe that it is my duty to help the community to put a stop to it,” he added. 

How can we contribute to Community Kitchen?

Manjula Nissanka, the Founder of SSCMC said, they have already received positive responses from donors such as the corporate sector which has encouraged them to expand the said humanitarian projects to other districts and provinces. 

“We have been approached by one of the biggest corporates in Sri Lanka, and they said they hope to dispatch a team today to see how people benefit and how the whole programme is run. If it works well and they are happy, they would give the greenlight to extend similar project work to other districts as well. But, again, these are to be decided upon, because the three locations that have been selected are pilot projects. Within the next three to four weeks, we would be in a better position to decide whether we could extend the same to other districts and provinces.

Logistics such as the number of locations, the number of days, the number of people to feed, and the quantity of meals, are to be decided based on the feedback from our ongoing pilot projects. Sarvodaya, is an organisation which has its presence in all 25 districts of Sri Lanka. It has a better understanding of where marginalised communities are situated. That’s one of the reasons we are working with Sarvodaya; they have the entire database. With that information, if and when we are ready to scale it up, I think we would be able to identify the most vulnerable and most marginalised societies/populations, and where they’re located. Based on that information, we would be able to deploy our resources as well.

Anyone could follow suit and we have started to give publicity with that mind. So, if anyone is interested, they could talk to us. As long as they could agree with our policy framework and ethics, they could join us, because we really want to empower and make it a social activity towards a common and worthy cause. We neither have any political affiliations nor are we indulging in business or other interests. Honestly, we don’t think we have the capacity and the resources to do it all by oursevles, as a single organisation. Definitely, we are planning to extend to other districts. Obviously, we need more organisations, donations and feedback,” he added.

What are the challenges and plans to continue Community Kitchen?

When visiting the first community kitchen project Ceylon Today noticed that only few locals of that area volunteered to help the team with the organising of the project. When speaking to a volunteer who was working with the team, he said, “Many locals misunderstand such projects as a work of a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) where we get large funds from various organisations. People have a wrong notion that we are here to earn for ourselves at their expense. Therefore, they are hesitant to cooperate with us. Be that as it may, they may perhaps understand later on, that these projects are held with the sole and good intention of helping the community,” he added.

Another volunteer said, they do their level  best to avoid any food wastage during the project.

“The forthcoming crisis will be critical, therefore, when we come across spoiled tomato while preparing food, we bury it in a fertile ground, so that a plant could grow from its seeds to the benefit of someone, instead of simply disposing it to the waste-bin. We should create awareness to the public and inform them about the potential food crisis without hiding about it, so that they could be better prepared. The prime skill that lacks in our society is unity. Though this Community Kitchen concept is new to our country, it exists in many other countries, where the public get together and contribute to the communities in need. Through this project, even we try our best to communicate the depth of the food shortage crisis and methods to reduce food wastage. The basic theme of this concept is ‘sharing and caring’. We witness many heart-rendering situations where people share half a loaf of bread among more than four. Our goal is to drastically minimise such situations,” added Thamali Madhurangi, a volunteer of the Community Kitchen Project.

 “Social Frustration can lead to rising crime and violence where the crisis situation could push the country from the frying pan to fire; lawlessness stemming from the pangs of hunger. This project is an initiative to the society to take care of one another when in dire straits. We are reaching out to different communities and places where they could too could be involved in such projects joining hands with the locals in the area. The funding for further projects would be sought with guidance from the Sarvodaya,” said Bruno Divakaran, co-founder of SSCMC.

Ven. Galkande Dhammananda Thera who volunteers with the Community Kitchen said,  it is a social responsibility to take good care of one another and earnestly requests  well-wishers to at least assist such programmes by donating the extra harvest from home gardening.

Ven Demalunge Medankara, Abeysinharamadhipathi noted that the politicians are busy ‘playing their own games’ to be in power and the poor people can never expect them to solve the nation’s burning issues. Therefore, communities on their own untiring efforts rise to the occasion and provide for themselves helping and cooperating with humanitarian projects, fostering unity, goodwill and common understanding.

Pix by Dumindu Wanigasekara

By Nabiya Vaffoor