Hiruni, Sithmi and Yumna are among the 79 female volunteers who served in low-income urban communities of Sri Lanka in a joint collaboration of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme.
The project, Empowerment of Urban Women from Low-Income Families through Home Gardening to Ensure Food Security and Nutrition, was implemented in Sri Lanka from October 2022 to February 2023. It covered 12 communities with women and youth as key beneficiaries, and centered on emergency response to the socio-economic crisis in the the country.
In recent years, the interest in home gardens has increased. This strategy to household food security especially helps the urban low-income communities.
Fifteen UN community Volunteers served as Peer Educators, Hiruni Weerasinghe, Sithmi Attanayake and Yumna Zawahir included, who interacted with people at the community level. Together, they coordinated 17 sessions on support in agriculture, and 30 sessions on sexual and reproductive health awareness. Some 600 agriculture kits, 600 essential food packs, 1000 maternity kits, and 1000 menstrual kits were given out to almost two thousand households.
Hiruni Weerasinghe, UN Community Volunteer (center) supports community members to fill out a survey on home gardening, sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence in Sri Lanka. @ UNV, 2023.
Hiruni Weerasinghe guided women on home gardening in one of the largest surburbs in Colombo, Borella 33A and Borella 33C. She also distributed hygiene and sanitary items for women and girls, and supported conversations on the overall well-being of community members.
Directly or indirectly, the local community has also been a part of my growth as a person. The year 2022 was a difficult period for us seeing the socio-economic crisis in the country. I strongly believed that this was the moment to rise to the occasion and give my best to help the communities in need.” -- Hiruni Weerasinghe, UN Community Volunteer Peer Educator with UNFPA, Sri Lanka.
Sithmi Attanayake, UN Community Volunteer speaks at an agriculture support session for urban home gardening in Sri Lanka. @ UNV, 2023.
Sithmi Attanayake served community members in the urban areas of Colombo, namely Nagaswatte and Kirula D4. She, too organized awareness sessions on sexual and reproductive health for women and youth. Actively reaching out on issues of stigma like gender-based violence, Sithmi expanded support for women in the form of sisterhood circles where participants opened up and spoke with one voice.
Yumna Zawahir, UN Community Volunteer (center) assists an awareness session on sexual and reproductive health in Sri Lanka. @ UNV, 2023.
Yumna Zawahir explains how assisting community members was an emotionally uplifting experience for her.
Volunteering allows you to change people’s lives, including your own. Working on this project has given me the satisfaction of playing a role in someone’s life, helping people who may not be able to help themselves. It has given me the opportunity to give back to my community while developing important social skills and gaining valuable work experience.” - Yumna Zawahir, UN Community Volunteer Peer Educator, UNDP Sri Lanka.
The service of UN community Volunteers was complemented by 70 V-Force Volunteers. Tharudini Ekneligoda was of the V-Force Volunteers, who supported the low-income communities by providing them with lunch packs. Along with the UN community Volunteer Peer Educators, she visited Wellawatta communities in Colombo to evaluate the progress of home gardens.
Tharudini Ekneligoda, V-Force Volunteer (center) distributes lunch packs at the Youth Forum in Sri Lanka. @ UNV, 2023.
The volunteers, both UN Volunteers and V-Force Volunteers were a driving force of the joint SDG outreach project in reaching out to communities, including those marginalized or difficult to reach. Together, they made noteworthy contributions towards engaging communities in sustainable development practices and in solidarity reaffirming that volunteering can be a transformative force for the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. They are truly Inspiration in Action!” -- Sharmalee Jayasinghe, Country Coordinator, UNV, Sri Lanka.
(From left to right) Sithmi Attanayake, UN Community Volunteer, Tharudini Ekneligoda, V-Force Volunteer, Yumna Zawahir, UN Community Volunteer, and Hiruni Weerasinghe, UN Community Volunteer in Sri Lanka. @ UNV, 2023.
The passion and commitment in UN Volunteers is admirable. The project was unique bringing in urban agriculture, nutrition, and sexual and reproductive health together to achieve holistic health and empowering women. They faced many challenges in the community but managed to win the trust of the community, and find solutions to the challenges as well as emerging issues in the community.” -- Sarah Soysa, National Programme Analyst, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, UNFPA Sri Lanka.
UN Community Volunteers Peer Educators organize the distribution of agriculture support kits in Sri Lanka. @ UNV, 2023.