Giving us an opportunity to be good people

By Jithendri Gomes

During this time of chaos and miscommunication, the efforts put in by many good humans all around the country really caught our attention. When there are multiple organisations, people, and sites like GoFundMe launching their own relief efforts, you as an individual are left confused. To which one do I contribute? Which organisation should I trust more? Is there a way to be helpful apart from donating goods and funds?

It is also accepted that when a collective of people get together to offer help, it is truly different to a single person trying to offer help on their own. Especially as with the current situation, we may need the assistance of the tri-forces and the Government to approach the areas of need.

Gudppl, a social network that connects people of all ages, skill sets, and interests, who want to volunteer to work with organisations and/or projects that need volunteers, had us do just that. They encourage you to register and join their pool of volunteers so that when the need arises, they will inform each volunteer, and you as an individual or organisation can choose to help depending on your capability.

This week, The Sunday Morning Brunch spoke to Gudppl Founder and CEO Harinda Fonseka about everything – from how he started and why. He also shared with us two projects they were currently working on to address the prevailing crisis in our country.

A go-to resource

“With Gudppl, the aim is to become the ‘go-to resource’ – the dynamic one-stop shop – for individuals and groups to find volunteering opportunities or for organisations to efficiently and reliably identify suitable volunteers who can enhance their efforts and impact. Gudppl is striving to improve its way to connect volunteers and donors with beneficiaries. We introduced new features recently, so you can now post a request to find mentors, post notices about missing persons or pets and events such as charity concerts,” shared Fonseka.

Their mission is to make a positive impact in Sri Lanka and around the world by mobilising communities to do good. “We believe a group of socially conscious and responsible citizens who are committed to building compassionate communities can change our world.”

Inspiration behind starting the organisation

Fonseka lived in Canada for almost 10 years, studying and gaining valuable work experience. During that time, he was inspired by the volunteers at the Trillium Health Hospital where he worked for over seven years. “They were very passionate and dedicated towards their cause; some of them have volunteered for over 40-50 years on a weekly/biweekly basis. When I moved back home, I started taking steps towards achieving my childhood dream, which was to serve my fellow countrymen and women in a positive and meaningful way,” he recalled.

However, Fonseka said that he was unable to find a central platform where he could find ways to give his time, knowledge, and skills to worthy causes based on his interests and availability.

“Unless I already knew about an organisation through personal experience or localised exposure, I found it a bit overwhelming trying to understand where to start and how I could add value to my community.

“We see a ‘brain drain’ in our country (i.e. many Sri Lankans either go abroad for education and never return or gain their education here and leave for opportunities in other countries), but we know that there are many Sri Lankans around the world – ones who have recently moved back and want to get involved in adding value to our country. There is a growing movement of Sri Lankans that is actively engaging in starting responsible businesses,” he went on.

The goal, according to Fonseka, was to create a platform that provides the infrastructure to support volunteerism, as it is often difficult for people to find ways of giving their time, knowledge, and skills to worthy causes.

“We’re supportive of initiatives, large and small, from both well-known and newer groups alike. And we believe this platform gives a voice to all types of organisations. More importantly, it has the potential to elevate smaller, quieter operations to really showcase their work and welcome people to join in growing their impact,” he said, adding that Gudppl wanted to broaden people’s options, give them flexibility that responds to their background or situation, and introduce them to a wider variety of active organisations or initiatives in their location.

The first response as a volunteer

Fonseka explained that we all react and respond differently to disasters in general. However, when it’s a terror attack, there are additional layers of emotions. “We as volunteers need to make sure that we are mindful about our emotions and extra conscious about the surroundings. Otherwise, we might leave a negative effect when interacting with the people who are affected.”

It is very important, said Fonseka, to work collaboratively through local religious institutions and authorities to ensure the resources are distributed effectively and efficiently. Volunteers who are interested in receiving training in psychological first aid can find out more details through the Gudppl app, he noted.

As with any line of charitable work, there are certain precautions volunteers should take when dealing with crises such as these, as opposed to a natural disaster or particular cause. Fonseka explained that – similar to an airplane safety announcement where we are advised to wear the oxygen mask first and then help our loved ones wear it – we need to make sure we are keeping our emotions at check and extra conscious about the surroundings.

“Some volunteers might have the urge to speak about the incident with the people affected, but it’s very important to be respectful and to focus on the task at hand. If they share their experience, it’s best that they listen compassionately without sharing their personal opinions and emotions that may fuel the fire,” Fonseka recommended.

He firmly believes that volunteers, community groups, NGOs, the Government, and other organisations need to provide support collaboratively. Commenting on authorities and their job of keeping the public informed sufficiently, Fonseka said that the information dissemination got better as the days passed by and “how it could have been handled could have been better”.

Pledging to help
Gudppl has started a project inviting volunteers from all three affected areas and people who are interested in volunteer work in Batticaloa, Colombo, and Negombo to pledge to volunteer through the Gudppl mobile app. “When the response, relief, and rebuilding efforts begin, the pool of volunteers will receive a notification through the app and website about the available volunteer requirements from local community groups, NGOs, and relevant authorities.

“Currently, there seems to be a lot of confusion as to what was exactly needed, because there is a gap in coordination,” shared Fonseka, adding that they received numerous inquiries about what kind of relief was required for the persons affected by the Easter Sunday events. “In an effort to support local NGOs, community groups, religious institutions, and all relevant authorities, we are working towards creating a database of needs.”

Fonseka calls people who have verified, credible information of volunteer and donor requirements to kindly inform them as they will help find appropriate support. “We always encourage people to work with relevant government authorities, local community groups, NGOs, and religious institutions. Our organisation does not handle any funds or charge any fees.”

Explaining their most recent project, Fonseka said: “We used a fable to explain this current situation better. Once upon a time, there lived six blind men in a village. One day, the villagers told them: ‘Hey, there is an elephant in the village today’.
“They had no idea what an elephant was. They decided: ‘Even though we would not be able to see it, let us go and feel it’.

All of them went where the elephant was. Every one of them touched the elephant. ‘Hey, the elephant is a pillar’, said the first man who touched his leg. ‘Oh, no! It is like a rope’, said the second man who touched the tail. ‘Oh, no! It is like a snake’, said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant. ‘It is like a big hand fan,’ said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant. ‘It is like a huge wall’, said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant. ‘It is like a spear’, said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.

“These six blind men started arguing until a person with sight stopped them to explain that they were all right and that they were touching different parts of the elephant. We too are hoping to see the bigger picture to deploy resources efficiently and effectively.”

Future of Gudppl

We then asked what was next for Gudppl and how volunteers can help rebuild Sri Lanka, to which he responded: “Currently, we are focusing on rapidly deploying features that will support rebuilding and reconciliation efforts. Our technology development partner Villvay Systems has gone above and beyond over the last couple of weeks, working till late and on the weekend to ensure we provide the necessary features for our members to roll out their relief efforts.”

Fonseka believes that, as Sri Lankans, we all needed to actively get involved in building our communities. Support can come in many forms, such as physical, psychological, emotional, financial, spiritual, knowledge, etc. In this moment of history, as we write a new chapter for Sri Lanka, the question is: In the years to come, will we have an answer we can all be proud of?

“The entire world is watching us; we can show them the strength of our (people’s) love and compassion. We need to show how we are rising above the ashes, defying all odds and showing the Sri Lankan grit.”

He stressed that all aspects of society will need to explore how we can bring people together. Schools, media organisations, religious institutions, local authorities, businesses, NGOs, community groups, and clubs and associations need to re-evaluate whether they are adding value to society or not, he said.

“As an example, large businesses can explore how they can support small businesses by sending their employees to mentor, opening their work spaces to them so that they can get back on their feet. We all need to get to work, go the extra mile to help each other, and connect with other good people to amplify our positive impact,” he concluded.

Let’s do this Sri Lanka!
To find out more about Gudppl, you can visit their website, or download their app through the App Store or Google Play.
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