Helvetas, a Swiss organization which has been a development partner of Sarvodaya for 27 years, celebrated its 50th Anniversary recently. Helvetas has been the primary resource and technical partner for the Sarvodaya Rural Technical Services (SRTS), the technological empowerment arm of Sarvodaya.
Dr.Vinya Ariyaratne, the Executive Director was invited by Helvetas to speak at the Jubilee Celebration held in Zurich, Switzerland on 18th June 2005. The event was attended by distinguished personalities including Micheline Calmy-Rey, the Swiss Foreign Minister, and Alpha Oumar Konare, the former President of Mali.
Dr.Ariyaratne speaking to a packed audience of over 1000 Helvetas members and supporters, paid a glowing tribute to Helvetas for the contribution it made to rural infrastructure development in Sri Lanka through Sarvodaya. He traced the history of the partnership between Sarvodaya and Helvetas, the achievements both in terms of physical outputs as well as the process impacts such as community participation, capacity building and technology transfer.
The event was a landmark for Helvetas with its dynamic Secretary General for over 30 years Werner Kulling retiring and handing over the mantle to Melhior Lensfeld. Mr.Kulling has been a true friend of Sarvodaya who stood by its leader even at times of great odds. In his speech Dr.Vinya Ariyaratne also paid tribute to this great friend of Sarvodaya.
Founded in 1955 as the first private organization for development cooperation in Switzerland, Helvetas has no religious or political affiliations. At the outset Helvetas was primarily committed to aid the underprivileged population groups in Asia, Africa and Latin America and promote self help. Together with around 28,000 members and their local groups Helvetas is actively engaged at home and with respect to solidarity in the development promoting fair trade and public awareness for the cultural wealth of the countries in the South. Projects and local partner organization are supported in 22 countries around the world. Sarvodaya was the first Sri Lankan organization to partner with Helvetas and the partnership began in 1978.
The Sarvodaya partnership with Helvetas began following an exploratory visit made in 1978 by a Helvetas official in 1978 who visited Sarvodaya work in Jaffna and submitted a report to the main body to support Sarvodaya. In December 1978, the Secretary General of Helevats E.Werner Kulling made a visit to Sarvodaya and spent 10 days with us visiting our projects at Kahawatte, Rakwana, Galle, Anuradapura, Vavuniya, Kilinochchi, Pungudutivu, Jafa, Kandy, Pannala and other places.
Sarvodaya always focused on reawakening of rural self reliance. Added to the vision required for this, were 3 other factors – capital for development of popular participation, rural technology and development management. The Sarvodaya-Helvetas bond was directed at fulfilling these 3 factors. Already Sarvodaya has undertaken the repair of tanks and canals, built new tanks, established health facilities, constructed wells, community centres and pre-schools and attended a gamut of other public work, but the streamlined technological aura in them was lacking. Helvetas has this objective of applying technology into such work in a very formal way. Thus was born the Sarvodaya Rural Technical Services (SRTS) under the aegis of Helvetas.
The first representative from Helvetas was Thomas Zimmerman. A very active Engineer, he implemented many of our projects. Karl Werhle helped him. Among the services rendered by this duo stands out Gravity Water Scheme at Ratnapura, beginning of agro farms at Vavuniya, Anuradapura and Pannala and introducing organic agriculture at Anuradapura farm, launch of Gravity Water Scheme in Kandy district, training skilled workers. A sum of Rs.16 million was spent on these projects.
Between 1982 and 1986, in many other districts, our programmes were launched under the direction of the engineers, Uli Steiner, Markus Schaefer and Rudolf Stark. The above programmes were duplicated in other districts too. At this time two other NGOs were also helped by Helvetas and the Department of Social Sciences of the University of Peradeniya did an evaluation study of the projects supported by Helvetas. During this period a total of Rs.27 million was invested by Helvetas.
Between 1986 and 1989, Han Heinien and Han Pfiffner were in charge and encompassing many other districts into these projects meant a further investment of Rs.40 million. Dozens of local technicians were also trained during this period.
Between 1989 and 2003, Mr.Otto Gottch, Markus Heininger and Andres Wiederkehr were in charge as Directors of Helevetas and presently we have Ms.Sylvaine Reig.
During the 25 years of cooperation between Sarvodaya and Helvetas, the physical outputs include;
* 380 GWS Schemes for approximately 500000 beneficiaries
* 2000 Drinking water wells for over 12,000 families
* 3500 Sanitary Latrines
* 90 Housing schemes
* 12 Small Bridges for more than 10000 beneficiaries
* 50 Community Roads for more than 10000 beneficiaries
* 130 Culverts for more than 13000 beneficiaries
Helvetas also buys and sells wooden toys produced by the Sarvodaya Woodwork Division as part of its fair trade programme.
Sarvodaya salutes Helvetas on its 50th Anniversary and wishes all the very best for many more years of service to humanity.