Sarvodaya = Sarva (All)+Udaya (Awakening) = “Awakening of All”
Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne founded Sarvodaya in 1958, when he established the concept of Shramadana (“Sharing of one’s Time, Thoughts, Labor and Energy”); gathering volunteers to come together and build a road in an impoverished rural village of Sri Lanka. Today, the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement (officially known as “Lanka Jathika Sarvodaya Shramadana Sangamaya”) is Sri Lanka’s most broadly embedded community-based development organization network. Sarvodaya works with 26 district centres, 325 divisional centres and over 3,000 legally independent village societies in districts across the country, including war-torn northern and eastern provinces.
The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement seeks a no-poverty, no-affluence society in Sri Lanka through community based efforts and volunteerism. One can travel for days to the most remote mountain settlements and still find signs of Sarvodaya: a seamstress who got her start from a loan through her village bank; a healthy child who benefits from home visits by a young mother trained by Sarvodaya in early childhood development; a well tapped with a hand pump made through Sarvodaya efforts. Or perhaps a hand-hewn road that brings poor villages into physical and psychological touch with the outside world. It is in the building of such roads that the movement actualizes its most moving testimony of greatness. In village after village where hopelessness and poverty ruled, Sarvodaya has engaged people to live by the motto: “We build the road and the road builds us.”
Rooted in ancient Sri Lankan traditions, Sarvodaya’s philosophy is based on the teachings of Buddhism and celebrates the involvement Sri Lanka’s bikkus (local monks), who play an active role in village life. However, we also take pride in sharing our mission with all who find value in the work of our organization. One can visit a participating village and see houses built by Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and Muslims next to one another. And the proud new homeowners will eagerly tell of their close friendships despite different religious and cultural traditions – friendships that come from working together for common goals.
Quoted in Apostle of Peace, Joanna Macy described the unique value of Sarvodaya:
“While many capitalists and Marxists take spiritual goals to be quietistic, mystical, drawing one off into private quests, Sarvodaya’s goal and process of awakening pulls one headlong into the “real” world and into the Movement’s multi-faceted programmes for health, food, education and productive enterprise.” (112)