Dunia, February 2007
UWCSEA brother and sister alumni helping to alleviate poverty and provide tsunami relief in Sri Lanka
Mevan Jayawardena (1990 - 1997) Dineli Mendis (1990-1995)
Mevan, and his sister Dineli both former students of UWCSEA are members of a family who are committed to charitable work in Sri Lanka. Their parents, Captain Elmo Jayawardena and his wife Dil, founded an organisation in 1995 called AFLAC – the Association For Lighting A Candle. The organisation’s mantra is that “it is better by far to light a solitary candle than to curse the darkness.”
The organisation’s primary goal is to alleviate poverty in Sri Lanka through education, health, shelter, food and clothing. AFLAC has 22 branches, as well as donors and sponsors world-wide. After the devastating tsunami in December 2004, tsunami relief was added to its mandate. Dineli handled international communications in relation to the post-tsunami work, and Mevan took on overall respon- sibility for the programme.
Mevan, who at the time was an IT analyst with a telecom company in Australia, was in Sri Lanka for his sister’s wedding in December 2004, when the tsunami struck. His sister’s groomsman was one of the hundreds of casualties. Mevan made the decision to remain in Sri Lanka to help with tsunami relief and ended up staying on for nine months.
Mevan at the newly-opened pool for the ‘Swimming for Safety’ programme.
Managing several relief projects involving multiple contacts, Mevan met with mem- bers of Parliament, local development groups, international aid agencies, as well as representatives of various religious, ethnic and nationality groups. AFLAC provided the ability to work across political, religious and ethnic lines. He was involved with house-building projects in Kalamulla and other areas that AFLAC was invited by government agencies to co-develop. He began, through AFLAC, a ‘Swimming for Safety’ programme shortly after the tsunami, to teach children and adults to swim, as it was realised that too many people in the island nation did not know how to. They hired a pool to begin classes, and were soon allocated land and funds to build and maintain a new pool which was opened in December 2006. The current plan is to train 1,000 children a year. AFLAC also established projects to help to rebuild the livelihoods of local fishermen.
Through the many projects that AFLAC has been involved in, Mevan, Dineli and their family have reached hundreds of tsunami victims.
Dineli Mendis and husband Roshan with some of the hearing impaired children at the St Joseph’s School along with the two nuns who run the school.
In September 2005, Mevan returned to Australia, and is working with Goldman Sachs JBWere, but has continued to work on tsunami relief and other projects for AFLAC as well, including the Swim for Safety project and AFLAC’s English Communication programme. He is also working closely with the University of Pennsylvania on Sri Lanka-based education projects.
Dineli now helps her husband (in addition to her full-time work) to run St. Joseph’s School for the hearing impaired in Sri Lanka - another of AFLAC’s current projects.
UWCSEA students, through their Global Concerns work, have sponsored children in AFLAC’s education programme, and have supported post-tsunami efforts as well.
For more information about AFLAC, please visit the website at www.aflacinternational.com .
Housing for tsunami victims is a more recent initiative for AFLAC.
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