This post was written by Sumana Wijeratna, President and CEO of VanLanka.
Nine years ago I arrived with my family in Canada. In Sri Lanka I worked with the Urban Development Authority as an urban planner in the municipal offices for eleven years and for another six years as the deputy director for regional offices.
After settling in the community of Surrey in 2002, I established VanLanka Planning Consulting where I continued to seek opportunities to use my experience in the international development field. In this quest, I reached out to the Vancouver-based International Centre for Sustainable Cities (ICSC) where I was able to offer my networks and local knowledge of Sri Lanka. This collaboration soon led to ICSC developing three successful community environmental management and sustainable planning projects in Sri Lanka that were funded by CIDA. I learned so much about sustainability planning from this experience and also believe my experiences were valuable to the Centre.
In 2007, when my younger son turned 13, he raised $500 to commemorate the death of my mother and pledged it to a charitable cause. This is a cultural practice for Sri Lankan people. My friends in Richmond contributed another $500 for the same. This small sum of money and the efforts of a volunteer youth group provided clean drinking water for 15 families and a computer resources center in a remote rural village in Sri Lanka.
In 2008, my husband and I used our combined Sri Lankan food preparation skills to engage the Sri Lankan diaspora in BC to raise $10,000 for the Kidney Hospital Foundation in Sri Lanka. This successful fundraising effort inspired me to continue my efforts in community supported programs for poor and vulnerable communities in Sri Lanka, and to establish the Vanlanka Community Foundation in April 2010.
Through the Foundation I work with private, government and community level partners in Sri Lanka and attempt to involve the Sri Lankan community here in the Vancouver area and the larger Canadian community in the activities of the Foundation. In 2010, with the help of ICSC and our food catering service, VCF was able to raise over $5000 towards our projects, which contribute to community economic development and education support programs.
Currently we work with three communities; one remote rural settlement in Thambavita, a tsunami and war-affected fishing community at Kallarawa, and a low-income urban slum community in Wilgoda. Our key work areas are education, small business for youth, and women and food security. We were able to send Gregory Corcoran, a Canadian high school teacher, to Sri Lanka as the first volunteer teacher to deliver three free ESL programs for the poor children and one fee for service program to cover part of our expenses.
My eldest son, who was also inspired by the land of his heritage, pledged to work as a youth coordinator and raised $225 in 2010 that goes toward a project to research traditional irrigation systems in Sri Lanka.
My Canadian experience has given me a new way of being an urban planner. I have learned to get out and find out what people need. I am so privileged to be here in Canada where I can use my experience to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor.
Sumana Wijeratna is an urban planner from Sri Lanka whose networks back home and planning experience were valuable assets in her work as a project manager and the project specialist in sustainable community development projects in Sri Lanka. Sumana’s experiences inspired her to start up community support programs for poor and vulnerable communities in Sri Lanka, and to establish the Vanlanka Community Foundation as a way to involve the larger community in her activities.
To find out more about Vanlanka’s programs, please visit their website.