Amidst Sri Lanka's Economic Crisis, the People Are Coming Together
We survive with small acts of kindness.
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Sri Lanka is facing the worst political and economic crisis in its near history. As citizens bravely suffer on many fronts and confront corruption together, the people have come together like never before. Every day, we see a million small acts of kindness as the entire country helps each other. Gathering funds and collecting supplies is my job, but even I am helped every day.
The People of Sri Lanka Are Protesting the Increasing Economic Crisis
For the past few months, we have been facing shortages of almost all essentials, including fuel, gas and even power. As millions give up on the idea of three meals a day and families spend half their days in queues for all these essentials, suffering and pain are a common map across all faces on the roads.
Amidst all of this are the people’s protests and the protest sites—entire villages built to sustain protests 24/7—across the country, calling for and successfully garnering the resignation of the president and an end to corrupt rule. Even protesting comes with many difficulties, as travel is difficult, and many who stay at the sites permanently or semi-permanently give up their livelihoods to do so. The sites operate on generous donations.
I happen to live relatively close to one of the major protest sites, and my frequent visits led to many kind people reaching out to me with offers for donations. All I had to do was visit the sites and post a list of requirements on my social media; they would be reshared with blinding speed, and many people within Colombo would either send supplies or cash donations. Sri Lankans living abroad, and even donors of other nationalities, would send in cash donations, as well.
The first week, two of my friends and I, who were pooling donated funds, were amazed at the amount we had managed to collect between the three of us. Even in ordinary circumstances, the sum would be a huge amount; in difficult circumstances, with sky-high inflation and the donors’ own difficulties, the same sum meant the world. And we were one group out of many.
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Sri Lankans Are Doing Whatever They Can to Assist Each Other
If that gesture wasn’t enough to melt our hearts, the next couple of weeks made it clear how the country and its people were surviving: with a glue of kindness holding everyone together. It became commonplace for us to wander into supermarkets and clear out their beverage aisle and pharmacy, among others. Not only was this well-received, everyone knew what we were buying for. Passersby helped us carry bags; shop owners gave certain items for free; pharmacists went out of their way to dig up stocks of essential medicines. Even when we were at the cashier with three trolleys full of supplies, not a single person grumbled.
While there, we observed people rush for the fresh produce sections, vegetables being scarce and curfews being imposed every other day. Despite the desperation, there was no fighting, no pushing, no jostling. There were more please’s and thank-you's than I had ever heard in a supermarket in my life.
As we came outside and found ourselves a trishaw (a rare one with enough fuel to make the trip), the driver accommodated us, our multiple stops and many bags with a gentle smile. On the road, impatient honking was at a minimum. We saw people distributing snacks and drinks to people who had spent hours in the fuel and gas queues, some who could afford it by ordering Uber Eats right to the fuel queue and sharing with their fellow queue-goers.
My friends told me about how they now carry more spare change in their wallets to tip their trishaw drivers. As we got off our trishaw and tipped the driver, despite having come from a 12-hour fuel queue, he insisted on waiting until we, three girls, had carried the bags to the protest tents safely. Just the week before, another of my friends had been dropped part way home after work by a trishaw running out of fuel, with apologies because the driver “felt bad about not dropping a girl all the way home when it’s getting dark.”
Mutual Compassion Is Helping Sri Lankans Persist Through Uncertainty
In the virtual world, social media is booming with protest plans, requests for aid and multiple community-based initiatives. Mutual friends going abroad post their flight dates so that those facing difficulties procuring medicine can reach out. Fundraisers are set up for the international community to aid the local communities. Even pets have not been left behind, with many messages on adopting kittens and puppies circulating.
The understanding of each other’s suffering is so much so that when a local business owner tweeted about her bakery being robbed, she only said she hoped the desperate individuals who robbed the place would be able to survive longer. “At this point, I’m not even mad at whoever did this. I understand the desperation of the people in this country. Let’s all tread carefully,” her tweet read. Another instance when a person tried to run off with groceries he couldn’t afford was resolved by other shoppers around him pitching in to pay his bill.
Despite all the challenges, conflicts and attempts to divide us and silence our voices, Sri Lanka’s people remain tall and strong, holding each other up with the strength of the compassion between us.
Humanity’s capacity for understanding truly showcases itself amidst deep suffering.