Give a little bit

The Covid-19 pandemic served as a grim reminder of many things. Above all, it called for strong unity among people while keeping safe physical distance from each other, and reminded us how fulfilling our individual civic responsibilities has a direct impact on others around us as well. Our responsibility during this trying time extends beyond fulfilling responsibilities pertaining to the prevailing health crisis; it is also about taking care of our fellow members of the human race.

Yesterday (5) marked the International Day of Charity, a day declared with the aim of mobilising and sensitising people and other relevant stakeholders to unite and extend a helping hand to those who are in need of help. It was chosen as the International Day of Charity in order to commemorate the death anniversary of Mother Teresa, a philanthropist revered by people around the world for her humanitarian work that has set an undying example for those aspiring to be better human beings.

Generosity is not at all new to Sri Lankans. We have gained a name as a generous and compassionate people, and not only Buddhism, but all major religions in the country, have nurtured the practice of caring about others. Sharing the little we have is a basic quality most Sri Lankans teach their offspring. In fact, in addition to our hospitality, generosity is one of the most notable qualities that most foreigners who have visited Sri Lanka say about its people.

When it comes to the pandemic situation in Sri Lanka, what we are going through is not only unforeseen, it is also extremely challenging due to the economic situation of a considerable segment of the population. Even though some statistics claim that before 2020, i.e. before the pandemic hit Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka’s economic growth was on an upward trajectory, the country saw a rapid decline in people’s income, businesses’ growth, and new job recruitments since 2020. The situation extended to this year as the pandemic kept worsening.

The economic decline caused by the pandemic promoted some groups to advocate for donations from citizens of diverse social classes. While the Government appealed to the citizens to donate a part of their income to support Covid-19 management efforts, most Parliamentarians also expressed willingness to forego their salaries. Some activists/academics have also claimed that a large number of Sri Lankans became wealthier in 2020, and that they should be generous enough to extend financial assistance to help the country get back on its feet, even though it is a temporary measure.

However, not everyone got rich during the pandemic. According to the World Bank, Sri Lanka’s informal employment sector, the segment of the country’s workforce that affected most due to lockdowns, makes up approximately 70% of the country’s workforce. The Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) has also acknowledged that the informal was severely affected during the lockdown.

This disparity, or the fact that some do not have as much as others, first came to light even before the first lockdown/curfew, when the first few Covid-19 cases were reported. While some people started panic-buying and stocking up essentials due to hearsay that there would be a shortage of food due to the pandemic, those who were not as economically stable as others were unable to do the same. That is why so many people had to complain about not having access to most basic day-to-day goods including food items during the very first lockdown. 

However, as far as helping each other is concerned, the situation has changed to a certain extent – healthcare workers work more time than they are officially required to, sometimes more hours than the number of hours covered by their overtime quota, and some charity organisations also launched campaigns to distribute essentials and medicines. However, there is so much more to do, as the Government is exhausting resources to contain the pandemic while ensuring that the people have the essentials to survive lockdowns, and in most cases, there is so much we can do regardless of how little we have.

At this juncture, every person’s support counts, and so we must all do what we can – starting with our responsibility towards the health of those around us.