Hope in Crisis: The Beginnings of STC Colombo

We recently had a conversation with Richard Holt of STC London, who is also the Network Coordinator for South Asia, about his trip to Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Below is a glimpse of our conversation about this impactful trip –

1. We heard that you recently went on a trip to Sri Lanka! Could you tell us a little bit about the purpose of the trip?

The purpose of the trip was to explore opportunities to initiate STC in Colombo, the capital. The country is going through a very difficult situation where so many people are struggling due to a food and fuel crises. We want to see how we can help. Sri Lanka is a beautiful country with the most welcoming people. It is heartbreaking to see them suffer in such a way.

2. We know that neighbourhood transformation is quite important to you. How would you explain it to someone who hasn’t come across the term before?

Good question!

Neighbourhood Transformation seeks long-term, sustainable solutions to poverty in our communities.

Think about it in terms of Relief and Development. Relief is used to provide urgent and immediate help to people going through a crisis. For example, a flood, earthquake, war etc…

Development seeks to take people from a position of surviving to a position of thriving. It is a hand-up rather than a hand-out. It is helping to identify people’s strengths and the use of locally available resources to develop their neighbourhoods/ communities. It’s helping to equip communities to take ownership and responsibility for their own development and their own futures.

3. What are some ways that neighbourhood transformations will/can look different in Sri Lanka than, say, London? What are some ways they look the same?

Another good question! It’s probably hard to say at this point as we get started. However, Colombo is on the coast and there are many fishing villages within the suburbs of Colombo. Many of the coastal areas are littered with trash so some of the first things we could do is in the area of education and awareness-raising and how excess trash can harm the health of households as well as the environment.

The most important thing with Neighbourhood Transformation is that the community has agency. We want to make sure that the local community is involved in identifying, prioritising and providing solutions for its own problems. This is an important principle whether it be being implemented in a place like Colombo or London.

4. Is there a particular story or incident from the trip that you would like to share?

Sri Lanka is a country in crisis. However, there are stories of hope. I met with some of the most inspiring people during my time there. People who are making everyday sacrifices to serve their people. I spent most of my time with Udaya and his family. I was inspired by not only him but all of his family, including his teenage kids and how much they were involved in served the poor. For them, serving the most vulnerable is not an optional extra but a way of life.

5. What’s next for you in terms of travelling? What’s next when it comes to neighbourhood transformations?

The plan is to go back to Sri Lanka at the end of October/ beginning of November for 10 – 12 days. The purpose of the visit will be to train locals in Colombo and other cities in neighbourhood transformation and how to bring long-term, sustainable solutions to poverty as well as to launch initial Serve the City seed projects.

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