Support our communities: Sriyal Nilanka on helping the marginalised and overlooked

By Dimithri Wijesinghe  

Our time under curfew seems almost near its end. While some feel that it may be too soon, there are those who will certainly sigh in relief considering that a large portion of the island’s population is dependent on industries that have come to a standstill, particularly certain minorities who have allegedly been completely ignored in these times of crisis, left to fend for themselves.

We spoke to Sriyal Nilanka, who has been an avid presence in conversations around the PLHIV (People Living with HIV) community. He is currently part of a group of individuals working in HIV Response, a collective effort by organisations and individuals facilitating aid and providing support to community members most at risk for HIV and facing a difficult time due to Covid-19 and the curfew situation in Sri Lanka.

These communities include PLHIV, sex workers, LGBTIQ+ members, persons battling drug addiction who are mostly daily wage employees or do not have a stable income, and tourism service providers.

Nilanka shared that due to the socioeconomic situation of some of these individuals, they are part of society that’s most in need of assistance; some of them may not be literate or possess basic abilities to read or write while some may not have bank accounts or even NIC cards, meaning they are not eligible or even considered for aid provided by the Government. Particularly those in the transgender community who have begun their transition, whose outward appearance may not correspond with their identification, are at a disadvantage.

He also shared how people who abuse drugs may be going through withdrawal. While people are often insensitive to them and there is not a lot of sympathy towards them, they too are part of our society and need help, Nilanka shared.

Persons in these communities face difficulties as many of them are daily wage earners and often live from paycheck to paycheck if they have no savings; they are left with absolutely no money in this case, and thereby no meals.

He shared that some individuals and organisations have reached out to them; ground-level organisations then connect with either the relevant local government authorities, National Response to HIV, national STD/AIDS control groups, or the Family Planning Association (FPA), which will then connect the relevant PLHIV groups to network as necessary and provide aid to those in need.

Speaking about the Government’s response in providing for those in need, particularly the minorities, Nilanka shared that there is a fear in these communities to ask for aid. There is negative stigma and a negative social perception attached to these communities and so their fear is at times warranted. Even in instances when they do reach out, there have been occasions where they would have trouble getting to and from the places providing aid. He shared that there have been occasions where they would have no way of travelling to the points where supplies or money is being handed out because there is no public transport and as they have no private vehicles to get from point A to B.

Nilanka shared that their collective is currently encouraging the general public to donate what they can to provide for such persons. He shared that they have now chosen to ask for funds only after managing to provide supplies and aid for a number of people. He also shared that as those seeking help has grown, their collective has made efforts to reach out and ask for funds.

Speaking of the disbursement of funds and transparency of the process, he shared that they directly transfer the funds to those who have requested it. However, they do carry out a verification check prior to transferring funds, either through other community organisations or through the general community to confirm the situation of the people requesting aid. He confirmed that primarily they provide aid to people who have been submitted through their many trusted networks, and each individual network would bring in a number of people looking for help.  

He said that they have currently received a total of Rs. 125, 000 and have supported 47 people. “The main requirement is food and we are providing each person with about Rs. 2,500 at the moment,” he said. While the identities of the people who have received donations will not be revealed, those who have contributed will receive a reference number confirming their donations have been transferred and also to whom; the receiver being indicated by a reference number in order to maintain transparency.

Nilanka shared that they will not be revealing the names of their donors and the amounts contributed as at this moment any amount is valuable, and they also do not wish to make anyone feel their contribution was less than that of others by revealing this information.

On a closing note, Nilanka shared that regardless of what the general public’s opinion may be – particularly of those in urban areas – it would be best that the curfew situation be lifted or regulated with a little more freedom considering the communities in need, including daily wage earners who require an income. He believes that so long as people are responsible and adhere to the guidelines, which should be consistently and regularly communicated to the public, and if the public continues to act accordingly, we can get back to business as usual or as close to it as possible.

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