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Alumni from Sri Lanka secure grants to help respond to COVID-19

Posted: 8 February 2021

Sri Lanka, Alumni, Impact,

Australian alumni in Sri Lanka are providing significant contributions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. To support alumni to have greater impact, Australia Awards – Sri Lanka launched a ‘Small Grants Scheme’ in September 2020 that aligned with priorities identified in the Australian Government’s Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response. The grants scheme, funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, is one way that Australia Awards – Sri Lanka is creating opportunities that enable alumni to contribute towards sustainable development in the country.

The competitive grants scheme has provided AUD3000 each for three projects (involving seven alumni) that support recovery initiatives connected to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. All projects respond to the priority areas of economic recovery, health security and stability. They also include initiatives that contribute towards gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. The successful projects are profiled below.

Dr Asiri Hewamalage (featured above(Master of Education in Inclusive and Special Education, Monash University, 2016) is a Consultant Community Physician who is using her activity grant to develop information, education and communication materials for caregivers of children with disability. This includes developing materials such as videos in Sinhala and Tamil languages with instructions for caregivers about conducting parent-mediated activities in their homes. While the materials consider topics that are common to many children with disability, they are designed to be applicable to all children.

To identify the most important gaps, Asiri’s team held consultative meetings with healthcare providers of children with disability. Using this information, the team developed videos on responsive parenting and the importance of play as a medium to promote development. In addition, the team developed general parenting advice and social media messages on parenting and caring for children during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am working with children with disabilities and their parents. One of the main barriers we encounter is the general lack of understanding among parents on how to provide responsive care for their children,” says Asiri.

“Further, scarcity of self-learning material for parents in local languages is an issue,” she adds. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, it was very challenging to provide this traditional service while adhering to social distancing guidelines, and the use of technology has become a necessity. I saw this small grant as an opportunity to develop communication materials which can be shared through social media.”

Another activity grant recipient is Gayan Dias (Master of Management – Finance, University of Melbourne, 2019). Following his studies, Gayan returned home and joined World Vision Lanka, where he works as the Senior Manager – Corporate Partnerships and Local Fundraising.

Gayan’s grant project focuses on developing economic stability and food security for 20 female-headed households in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. The project aims to achieve this through home gardening initiatives. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, female-headed households have been severely affected by the loss of livelihoods and income. The nationwide lockdown resulted in a temporary but damaging interruption of daily wage-earning activities, which significantly slashed the economic strength and purchasing power of female-headed and vulnerable households across the island. Often, this led to diminished food security for these families, resulting in inadequate daily nutritional intake. The grant project is intended to strengthen the economic capability and security of female-headed households by providing them with a means of income generation and access to fruits and vegetables through home gardening.

“Through home gardening, these 20 households will be able to tackle hunger and develop a sustainable alternative source of income for the foreseeable future,” says Gayan.

Australia Awards alumnus Gayan Dias

The final activity grant went to an initiative led by a group consisting of five alumni: Dr Madura Thivanka, a Lecturer at British School of Commerce; Indika Gamage, General Manager at Jetwing Lake-Dambulla; Malinda Ekanayake, Director Operations, Aarunya Vacations (Pvt) Ltd; Chandra Nishanthi, Business Development Manager, Experiential Journeys (Pvt) Ltd; and Lalith Mapatuna, a tour guide. All five participated in the Australia Awards Short Course on Sustainable Tourism Development delivered by Griffith University in 2020.

The group’s project will focus on the development of a digital learning platform to support tourism stakeholders in Sri Lanka to economically recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The project consists of three stages: developing the online learning platform; testing the platform with selected stakeholders; and launching the platform.

Sharing his thoughts on behalf of the group, Thivanka says, “Through the grant, the group expects to share the knowledge they have gained as recipients of the Short Course on Sustainable Tourism Development, especially in terms of building the economic sustainability of tourism industry stakeholders in Sri Lanka who are adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

He sees this knowledge transfer as fundamental to the project: “This grant will be a good opportunity for the alumni to share the skills and knowledge they have gained from the Short Course to a wider audience in the Sri Lankan tourism sector, thereby allowing us to be agents towards supporting the sustainable development of the sector.”

Australia Awards alumni Chandra Nishanthi (left), Lalith Mapatuna (top center), Malinda Ekanayake (bottom center), Indika Gamage (top right) and Dr Madura Thivanka (bottom right)

The Australia Awards – Sri Lanka Small Grants Scheme was designed to assist proactive alumni to implement activities that contribute to sustainable development in Sri Lanka. The objectives of the grants scheme are to:

  • increase sustainability in the development objectives of Sri Lanka
  • combine capacities of skilled professionals to achieve common development objectives
  • establish a platform for sector specialists/organisations to develop linkages/consortiums that can continue to work with or without the support of a small grant.