Like many countries around the world, Sri Lanka has faced a disruptive COVID-19 lockdown accompanied by a socio-economic fallout. Despite these challenges, many of its citizens have dedicated themselves to protecting their communities and ensuring the stability of the healthcare system, food supply and greater economy.
Stories of these people are shared in all three national languages of Sri Lanka and posted on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram under the hashtag #HumansOfHopeSL.
Dr. Sathyani Wevita is a young medical researcher working at the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Sri Lanka. She is still carrying out her work in the frontlines, facilitating COVID-19 research with the Government and WHO.
"Before the COVID-19 outbreak, I was focused on research related to Dengue and Tuberculosis. When the first COVID-19 patient in Sri Lanka, who was a Chinese national, was discovered I was able to support my fellow medical officers due to my ability to converse in Chinese. As more cases of the disease were discovered in the country, I shifted my focus to understanding the virus better: especially its asymptomatic nature. Today, I am supporting the collection of COVID-19 samples and facilitating the research between several Institutions. As a young medical professional, I am proud to be on the frontlines of Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 response. This virus has an impact on all our lives, regardless of any religion or creed. To defeat it, we all need to work together."
Iroshini Seneviratne Manike is an agrarian officer, who works closely with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization on several agriculture development projects. When Sri Lanka went in to lockdown in March, the Government was determined to keep the food production going. She was among the field officers who ensured that the farmers had the necessary support to keep producing goods despite the nationwide lockdown. Her work especially focused on promoting home gardening.
"There was not a single day that I spent at home. Agrarian Service Officers were categorized as essential service workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although visits to the farming communities I serve were initially limited, I stayed in constant contact with them over the phone to provide advice. We had to support the local production of crops such as mung-beans, cow pea, groundnut, maize, chilies, big onions and turmeric. As Agrarian Service Officers or Agriculture Extension Officers, who work in the field and interact with people, there is a risk to our health. However, we cannot abandon our farmers who are driving the food production of the country. Many of these farm families are poor. They grapple with a myriad of problems like keeping their farmlands and home gardens safe from pests or wild animals, and economic instability while ensuring the health and wellbeing of their families. We have to stand with them, encourage them and help them through the sharing of sound technical knowledge, now more than ever. The future food security of our country depends on it.”
A vegetable vendor at one of Sri Lanka’s busiest economic centres, Chandran kept his shop going even during the lockdown per the government’s requirement. Despite various challenges, he believes in the role he must play to keep the economy flowing. He currently supports a family of eight with his small business.
"I’ve had this small shop at the Narahenpita Economic Centre for over eight years. It’s how I support my mother, sister and her children. Even during the lockdown, the Centre stayed open for the sake of the consumers and the farmers. The livelihoods of many depend on the sales we make. We were lucky because there was no shortage in produce supply. My family is worried because I’m working in such a busy environment during COVID-19. We adhere to all the health guidelines. This is something I am especially careful about. We are in the food business: whether there is a pandemic or not, we must be responsible for the produce we sell because it has a direct impact on people’s health. I always handpick the items I sell and ensure that they are safe for consumption."
Madhura started to cultivate exotic vegetables with the support of the Agribusiness Partnership Programme sponsored by the International Fund for Agricultural Development. Despite challenges related to the COVID-19 lockdown, he kept on farming and participating in the market. Following the lockdown, he has made great profits by adapting new strategies in his agribusiness.
"Though my parents were into traditional agriculture, I always knew that we could improve on what we had. That is why I started to cultivate more exotic vegetables with the support of the Agribusiness Partnership Programme. I needed to become not just a farmer but a young entrepreneur. With the support of the programme I drafted business proposals, obtained loans and got the technical know-how to improve my business. My first crop of salad cucumbers was a great success. Later, I moved on to cultivating other vegetables such as bell peppers. Since November 2019, in less than a year, my business became quite successful. When the markets dropped due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I knew I had to remain courageous and not lose faith. Today my persistence has been rewarded, the demand for bell peppers have shot up and my crop is selling at almost double its previous value. I believe young people like me should not shy away from agribusiness; we can think outside the box and change our country for the better."