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Starving children, natural disasters, poor, starving helpless people who have no means of aid in their own country, and AIDS are usually the images that come to mind when you think of NGOs working in developing countries. Yet this image is naïve and patronizing at best. Grassroot charities have been working in developing countries, such as Sri Lanka, for decades. Their work is largely overlooked by the media and international organizations, but they have quietly and effectively continued their work. Unfortunately, after the war in Sri Lanka, the previous government cracked down on NGOs and severely restricted many of them, particularly those working on issues surrounding the war, psychosocial issues, advocacy, and human rights, as noted by the Foreign Policy. Nevertheless, Grassroot NGOs have continued their vital work reshaping their aims and projects to best assist people. Whilst international funding rapidly reduced after the 2004 tsunami and war, which ended in 2009, it is of vital necessity. When INGOs and nations assist third world countries they need to invest in Grassroot NGO’s to assist development long term.
Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA) is one such Grassroot initiative that has, since its conception in 1997, been a firm advocate for people, with strong links to the government and NGOs across the country. It has a wealth of knowledge and experience of the particular issues Sri Lanka faces and attends its projects with patience, diligence, and an eye for detail. Talking to the director Mr. Jeevan Thiagarajah and Dhanya Ratnavale, CHA’s experience in working with the government, and the public, instantly shines through. At the height of the war, they were at the centre of everything, assisting both local and international NGOs. Since then, due to government funding restrictions and the rapid exodus of INGOs and international donors at the end of the war in 2009, they have lost funding. Unfortunately, they are one such organization who desperately needs funds as they provide a vital link between the government and the people, and without their experience, Sri Lanka would suffer.
Unbeknown to many, Grassroot charities, such as the CHA and bigger NGOs like the Asia Foundation keep in close contact and work well together. The range of research done by the aforementioned NGOs and others, as well as prominent Think Tanks, such as the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) is astonishing. It is of the highest quality, covering every possible issue from administering transitional justice post war, resettling Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to local level policing, and local governance structures. Organizations, such as the CHA and the CPA have been unafraid of pursuing the controversial and difficult issues like the war, and justice, providing thorough analysis, critique, and viable solutions. These resources need to be greater utilized by the government and better funded by international organizations as they are key avenues through which progress can be made in all avenues.
The breadth and depth of the NGO and Think Tank space in Sri Lanka is far more extensive than people realise. Its value cannot be described in words, but if Grassroot initiatives were to expire due to lack of funds the impact would certainly be felt. They all contribute to ongoing developmental work, which governments cannot be relied upon to assist and maintain due to the ever-changing nature of politics. Therefore, donors, governments, and INGOs should make an effort to work through existing organizations, using their connections and knowledge and expanding upon their resources and funding to make a permanent difference. In this way, the development of nations, such as Sri Lanka will be steady and long-lasting.