(From Summer 2002 YES Magazine)
What about joining 650,000 people in a silent meditation for peace? What about one village linking up with another to truly help one another? What about investing in a 500-year peace plan?
Thanks to an organization called Sarvodayawhich means "everybody wakes up"this is happening in Sri Lanka.
Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne, born in 1931, founded the Buddhist-inspired movement in 1958. It began with a call to people to join and donate 10 days of labor a year to the poorest villages in Sri Lanka (Ceylon). It began as an educational movement, because Dr. Ariyaratne was a teacher, and wanted students to know the reality of village people.
From 100 villages in 1967, Sarvodaya was working in 15,000 villages by 2001.
Says Dr. Ariyaratne, "By 1969-70, we realized that the kind of development that is being thrust upon our people by the United Nations, rich movements, the World Bank, and others was not the kind of development we needed. Nothing short of total social transformation was going to improve the lives of our people. Today the Sarvodaya movement is education plus development plus non-violent transformation of society."
For the last 20 years Sri Lanka has been wracked by civil war between the Hindu Tamil Tigers and the Buddhist Sinhalese, the majority rulers. For 44 years now the Sarvodaya movement has taught conflict-resolution skills and brought economic development to more than half of Sri Lankas villages, and this has shifted the balance now in favor of peace. A pro-peace President was just elected.
The Link-Up Program was inaugurated on Peace Samadhi Day. One thousand villages in the devastated Tamil section are linked with 1000 villages in the Sinhalese section. The latter bring materials and skilled labor so that both sides can work together to rebuild homes, schools, wells, toilets, and places of worship destroyed in the fighting.
The goal is not only to restore interethnic harmony, but also the basic necessities for economic wellbeing. These two are inseparable in Sarvodayan eyes, along with respect for the land and for the human spirit.
Sarvodayas peace plan includes development strategies for a variety of ecological and social needs. It features locally generated energy as well as sustainable irrigation, soil renewal, and the community-controlled microcredit schemes that the movement has pioneered in the last decade. The aim of the movement is a "no poverty no affluence" society to reduce the disparity between rich and poor brought about by late capitalism and corporate globalization. The priority placed on care for the land reflects the first of their stated Basic Human Needs, a safe and beautiful environment.
The effects of war come from the far past and fester far into the future. Sarvodayans point out that the seeds of Sri Lankas civil war were planted 500 years ago with European colonization, and they estimate that healing will require an equal amount of time. They do have a timetable with goals, for instance in 50 years they plan for Sri Lanka to have the lowest poverty rate in the world and to abolish the standing army. By 2100 they will become "the first country to eliminate poverty, both economic and spiritual."
In 500 years people might be living on other planets. However, Sri Lanka will remain their image of Paradise on Earth.
Gordon Michael Scallion has always said that earthquakes in Sri Lanka were precursors for big earthquakes on the U.S. West Coast. Perhaps the Sarvodaya movement is the earthquake in Sri Lanka, and perhaps it foretells similar peace movements elsewhere.