The kind of influence that Rotarians can wield on their government, thanks to the work they have done in the past in critical areas such as disease prevention and health care, water and sanitation, etc, can be clearly seen from the way the Sri Lankan government reached out to the country’s Rotarians, and their robust response, during the first phase of the corona pandemic.
This was amply evident in the speech made by PRIP and incoming Trustee Chair K R Ravindran at the opening session of RI’s Virtual Convention.
He said that as the pandemic began, “my country (Sri Lanka) reacted proactively and very quickly. After we had only one case, the government held its first structured meeting to discuss the problem. Rotary was invited to the table along with WHO, UNICEF, World Bank and others.”
Incidentally, Rotary was the only service organisation at the meeting, he said.
Sri Lankan Rotarians put their heads together and assessed the short term and long term steps Rotary could take to help their country respond to the pandemic. “We recognised right away that the hottest commodity on demand would be the PPEs (personal protective equipment). We were correct, and demand for protective equipment rose at an astronomical pace.”
Sri Lanka produces apparel for some of the world’s best-known fashion brands; Rotarians met with some of these manufacturers and suggested that they switch production lines to make masks and other protective equipment, and got a positive response. The result is that today Sri Lanka is a major exporter of PPEs.
Next, even as they planned large Covid relief projects, they took on smaller projects such as upgrading the software and hardware of the government’s health promotion bureau, so that it could get out safety messaging in social media more efficiently.
The Rotarians also took on the challenge to upgrade the country’s principal research lab, which handled Covid-19 testing, as this would become a critical facility in the coming days. But it required a major investment, as they wanted it to be “world class; Rotarians and friends responded generously and unhesitatingly, and in 10 days we raised close to $1 million, including $200,000 from TRF. The Foundation staff reviewed and cleared a global grant application in 48 hours. It was the fastest global grant authorisation I have ever seen.”
With the new, fully automated equipment, Sri Lanka’s Rotarians helped not only to cut the testing time for the Covid-19 virus from 8 to 2 hours, but also enabled the lab technicians to remain safe as they did this testing.
Ravindran added that in the future, this upgraded lab will not only help the country to deal with the corona virus, but other illnesses, viruses, and outbreaks. This way, Rotary in Sri Lanka has established a significant landmark in the country’s response to handling the pandemic.
(According to the figures available on June 22, Sri Lanka has seen 1,950 confirmed cases, of which 1,498 people have already recovered and the country has registered only 11 deaths.)
Significantly, added Ravindran, Rotarians did not stop with these projects to help their country combat the pandemic. They also looked at life once the lockdown had ended and radical behavioural changes would need to be enforced to ensure people remained safe from infection.
So another project, in which all the clubs in Sri Lanka are involved, is titled Stop the Spread. “Working with experts and professionals, Rotary has set up a protocol that would enable companies who are compliant with such guidelines to be certified as a Covid-controlled environment. Thus, across our country, industries, business premises, educational institutions, supermarkets, and other retailers can make their establishments safe, both for themselves and their customers.”
This is a long-term, sustainable and much needed project that will help people to deal with the new normal. “With all these projects, Rotary has shown that we are living up to our promise and reputation as People of Action”, with the firm belief that “every situation in life is temporary and nothing lasts forever. So we will endure, and the essence of Rotary will always keep us together in spirit, side by side, until we are ready to physically meet again,” he concluded.