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Sri Lankans mourn death of Magsaysay Award winner

A.T. Ariyaratne started the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, which is an embodiment of Buddha’s teachings
A.T. Ariyaratne set up Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, the nation’s largest non-governmental organization.

A.T. Ariyaratne set up Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, the nation’s largest non-governmental organization. (Photo: Supplied)

Published: April 17, 2024 09:15 AM GMT
Updated: April 17, 2024 09:45 AM GMT

Sri Lankans have mourned the death of the founder of the nation’s largest non-governmental organization and a Magsaysay Award winner.

A.T. Ariyaratne, who set the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, a humanitarian organization based on Buddhist teachings, passed away at the age of 93 at a private hospital in the capital Colombo on April 16.

Christian members of the movement joined others to mourn the death.

Nelson Dariju, a 58-year-old Catholic resident of Negombo, said Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, and Hindus collaborate in 15,000 villages to enhance social life as part of the movement.

“In 1958, Ariyaratne initiated the inaugural Shramadana work camp, centered on sharing time, labor, and energy. The movement is open to anyone," said Dariju, who is president of the Pitipana-Negombo unit with 64 Christian members.

According to Ariyaratne, the Sarvodaya Movement was an embodiment of Buddha’s teachings.

He illustrated how these teachings could be applied to enhance spiritual, moral, cultural, social, economic, and political aspects of community life.

Sarvodaya has built 5,000 preschools, health centers, libraries, industrial units, and solar projects.

Dariju said Ariyaratne's goal was the eradication of poverty.

“Ariyaratne's organization operates on principles of self-governance," he said.

Dariju said Sarvodaya provided support to the victims of the Easter Sunday attacks by distributing dry ration, constructing houses, providing laptops, and offering scholarships.

Ariyaratne's final religious rites will be conducted on April 20 at the Independence Square in Colombo.

In 2007, he received the prestigious Sri Lankabhimanya Award. His international accolades include the Ramon Magsaysay Award (1969), the King Baudouin Award for International Development (1982), the Niwano Peace Prize (1992), and the Mahatma Gandhi Peace Prize (1996).

Sithmi Nuwani, a Christian member from Chilaw, said, “These awards acknowledge his significant contributions to peace."

“The country requires more selfless and visionary leaders like him.”

Born in 1931 in southern Sri Lanka, Ariyaratne attended a village school before pursuing higher studies at Vidyodaya University. His teaching career began at Nalanda College in Colombo.

He led 40 students and 12 teachers on an educational tour to a marginalized village. This marked the beginning of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement.

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