Brunch

CandleAid: A shining light for those in need 

By Pujanee Galappaththi

In a time where humanitarianism is growing more and more critical, and where more and more new causes are being funded, many NGOs are branded inefficient in providing for their chosen cause. In light of World Humanitarian Day, which fell on 19 August, Brunch reached out to one of Sri Lanka’s best-loved homegrown humanitarian NGOs, CandleAid Lanka, an organisation that has tirelessly and passionately dedicated itself to the betterment of the community for over two decades. 

Founded in 1995, CandleAid has been the solitary candle in the darkness to many Sri Lankans in need. Modelled on the conviction that every person can do something to help another irrespective of social status, wealth, and other prejudices, CandelAid has gone above and beyond in its passion and determination to enrich the lives of those in need.

CandleAid Lanka Founding President Capt. Elmo Jayawardena

Formally registered as a non-governmental organisation and recognised as an “Approved Charity”, CandleAid’s core values and principles have always aimed at supporting the less fortunate. CandleAid Lanka Founding President Capt. Elmo Jayawardena shared that CandleAid has always held its head above the fray, categorically stating that CandleAid is not involved or affiliated with any political or racial agendas or biases and is simply dedicated to supporting those in need. He further added that they further aim to awaken people from the “do nothing seat” to help the poor.

The social services and support rendered by CandleAid over the years have been threefold; education, health, and food. These are causes that CandleAid supports on a daily basis, while also dedicating themselves to supporting the community in times of crisis such as natural disasters like tsunami, floods, and pandemics.

When asked what the criteria are to become a beneficiary of CandleAid, we were told that anyone who is poor amongst the poor, persons from a low-income family, persons with no permanent means of income, single parents, children in families with no means of financial support, and any individuals without any other means of supporting themselves are eligible to avail themselves of the support rendered by CandleAid.  

CandleAid Lanka Vice President Priya Cooray

In the name of enabling education, CandleAid has assisted approximately 750 primary/secondary students and 450 universities at a total disbursement of Rs. 48 million between 2019 and 2020 alone. Notwithstanding the closure of schools and universities due to the pandemic, CandleAid has continued to provide monthly assistance to students due to the difficulties faced by their families. CandleAid has also donated to open seven libraries in 2019 and six in 2020 to bring its total libraries to 210, with a cost of a library being approximately Rs. 50,000 to 75,000. In addition, under its book project, CandleAid donated books and stationery to approximately 700 students in 2019 and 2020.

In supporting disadvantaged Sri Lankans with healthcare, a donation of Rs. 2,000 per month to CandleAid has helped 419 cancer patients in 2019 and 387 in 2020, with a total disbursement of Rs. 19 million from 2019 to 2020. A trust fund established by a donor has also given CandleAid the ability to donate upto a maximum of Rs. 100,000 to support critical medical requirements such as urgent surgeries or chemotherapy. This is subject to the beneficiary being in a low-income group and medical assistance being provided by a government hospital. From 2019 to 2020, a total of 44 beneficiaries have been assisted at a cost of Rs. 4.4 million.

Responding to the pandemic, CandleAid has established a special support programme for its beneficiaries who have been financially affected during the pandemic, and have further aided approximately 1,400 families through the first wave from April to June with Rs. 2,000 per month totalling a staggering Rs. 8.2 million, and 247 families in the second wave in November with Rs. 3,000 per family totalling Rs. 741,000.

A further 170 families were given a one-time subsistence of Rs.10,000 per family, totalling Rs. 1.7 million, through a secret Santa project. In addition, through CandleAid’s Gift-a-Meal programme, 169 families in 2019 and 192 in 2020 were assisted with a monthly donation of Rs. 2,000, totalling Rs. 8.6 million.

Like other humanitarian organisations in this time of great uncertainty and scepticism, CandleAid has faced the scrutiny of assumptions about their consistency and efficiency in maintaining their goals and providing for their beneficiaries. Addressing these concerns, Capt. Jayawardena shared that any act that supports a person in need is a humanitarian act and that while there may be poorly run NGOs among the ones that do good work for their community, it is not his place to draw a line between the two, noting that CandleAid is determined to light a solitary candle over cursing the darkness. 

Further talking about the 26-year-long service rendered by CandleAid Lanka to their community, Vice President Priya Cooray shared that CandleAid has always maintained 100% transparency in its projects. “We are driven by the wellbeing of our beneficiaries and therefore our failure rate is extremely low,” Cooray said. “With the funding received from our investors we have only allocated 10% as admin costs to pay salaries for our staff, which we actually started to do only five years ago, up until then 100% funding was allocated to our beneficiaries.”

To learn more about CandleAid’s work and to be a part of their efforts, please visit their website www.candleaid.org.