Sri Lanka: New civic engagement platform and education improve resilience efforts

In 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami caused the destruction of over 65,000 residential structures in Sri Lanka, displacing thousands and causing widespread difficulties in accessing basic services and livelihood opportunities. Although it has been 19 years since the disaster, communities are still struggling to find durable solutions to their displacement. In this recipe, the Sri Lankan CSO, Janathakshan GTE Ltd, responds with a recipe that tailors support to address the displaced community’s need for education and civic engagement to advocate to government authorities.

  • Tailor support to access services
  • Support advocacy to access rights
  • Co-develop a civic engagement platform with government authorities and displaced people
  • Strengthen skills for employment and entrepreneurship

In response to the thousands of people displaced by the Indian Ocean tsunami, the government of Sri Lanka created housing for displaced populations, including the target population of highrise apartments, comprising 288 units and housing 1,752 individuals.

Upon surveying residents of the apartments, Janathakshan GTE Ltd found that the people who had been relocated faced extreme poverty, limited access to livelihood opportunities, and unemployment. Low social acceptance and poor education had led some towards alcoholism and drug addiction. Furthermore, the displaced community had not received any legal documents after relocating to prove ownership of their housing units. They faced social exclusion from the host community, as well as a lack of community cohesion within the housing scheme.

To address this, Janathakshan GTE Ltd provided vocational training and self employment programmes, including: a programme specifically for single-parent-headed households; facilitated dialogues between youths and vocational training officials; a business and marketing workshop; and the establishment of a community youth leadership team. It also facilitated a dialogue with vocational training authorities, at national and divisional levels, to advocate for the inclusion of displaced populations.

In order to further support youths in the community, Janathakshan GTE Ltd provided revision seminars to help students prepare for secondary school final exams, and school equipment (e.g. school bags, bottles, stationery and textbooks) to those most in need.. It developed a fund to support pre-school, primary, secondary and vocational education, and conducted a programme to motivate young people to continue their education. This intervention was based on findings that an increasing number of students from the housing scheme were dropping out of school and some children did not have access to formal education services.

The project aimed to demonstrate the value of education and motivate children to continue their education. Art, poetry and essay competitions were held. Students from nearby villages were invited to participate and contribute to social integration. Motivational programmes were also held for parents to understand the importance of keeping their children in school.

“I’m married. I have been living here since 2007. I have two children. I was a child when we were affected by the tsunami. We were displaced and before coming here we were in a temporary camp in the nearest temple maintained by the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society. We were there for three years. My father was a carpenter and his workshop was near the roadside. The tsunami washed his workshop away. He did not have any provision to build a workshop here. He lost his customer base. We did not get any support from anywhere. We had to suffer a lot without a proper way of life.”

Sachini, living in Panadura, Sri Lanka

Although government authorities and institutions had clearly assigned roles and responsibilities for service provision to the community, they were struggling to provide services for two main reasons: there was no channel for communication between the community and the authorities, and there was poor coordination among institutions. Janathaksan GTE Ltd organised a joint event with the local government representatives, the Panadura Divisional Secretariat, to share the challenges faced by the community and to discuss possible interventions with government ministries and departments. This led to the establishment of a working committee at the Panadura DS office to connect the displaced community and government authorities, which in turn led to several bilateral meetings with the respective authorities (i.e. zonal education office, school principles, DS office) to advocate for long-term solutions.

One of the prioritised advocacy initiatives was to bring to the attention of the authorities the issue of home ownership. A situation analysis was carried out to identify the initiatives that had been taken by authorities and to identify the gaps in the process. Based on that analysis, recommendations were drawn and shared with the authorities responsible for housing, education, child protection and vocational training.

 A range of partners were engaged in different ways. In order to ensure the sustainability of the project’s aims, a multistakeholder steering group was established and a fundraising strategy drafted. Policymakers from different ministries were brought together, facilitating a space  for dialogue about holistic and long-term solutions. Janathakshan GTE Ltd found its community-based approach to be a key success factor. “We were able to bring together the community and other key local stakeholders – bringing them into one platform to discuss and seek durable solutions for the most pressing issues. Alongside the opportunity to better understand the various socio-economic issues faced by the community 16 years after resettlement, this platform importantly contributed to building trust and bridging the disconnect between the community, authorities and other key stakeholders.” said Chandrika Kularathne, Senior Manager – Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience.

Janathakshan GTE Ltd is a not-for-profit company in Sri Lanka. Over the last 25 years, the organisation has contributed to green and sustainable development through building resilience, promoting low carbon development and circular economy processes with communities.

Visit their website

This case study was produced as part of our Making Displacement Safer Cookbook – a resource on addressing DRR challenges faced by displaced communities in urban areas.

View resource

Project funded by

United States Agency for International Development

Our Making Displacement Safer project is made possible by the support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) – Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance. Content related to this project on our website was made possible by the support of the USAID. All content is the sole responsibility of GNDR and does not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID.

Visit their website
Back to top