By Umer Nangiana
If community means togetherness, they exemplify it. Besides accomplishing their respective goals, they come together to support each other, help those who are in need and then celebrate their occasions in harmony.
There are different arms of Sri Lankan community welfare organisations under one umbrella of Sri Lanka Coordinating Committee (SLCC) that caters to specific needs of the community members living in Qatar.
Hundreds have benefited from this communion for years. Sri Lanka Business Council (SLBC) has helped dozens into startups, growing into large businesses. Sri Lanka Community Benevolent Fund (SLCBF) has assisted thousands sustain their livelihoods in the face of natural disasters over the years.
Community sat down with some of the heads of key Sri Lankan community welfare organisations to talk about the activities they undertake and how they benefit the community at large.
“Since our establishment in 2009, we have supported many independent businesses, both small and large scale. Through our initiatives, more than 70 people have started their own businesses,” Upali Waganthala, General Secretary, SLBC tells Community.
“As a business council, our main objective is to motivate and help the Sri Lankan community members who have some idea or vision to start a business, small or large. We offer help on getting sponsorship, financial advice, finding links and opportunities,” says Upali. The goal is to encourage people who want to start their own business.
SLBC regularly holds business forum where a number of Sri Lankan businessmen are invited, acknowledged for their business development and growth and given guidance on further enhancing their businesses.
“Our aim is to put businessmen from Sri Lanka and Qatar in contact with each other and expand the Sri Lankan business base. We hold many exhibitions for the locals and the expatriates on business,” Mahesh Abeypala, President SLBC, chips in.
SLBC, through SLCC and the Sri Lankan embassy, also brings prominent businessmen from Sri Lanka to Doha so that they can assess the opportunities to invest here and see the environment themselves. Likewise, they take Qatari businessmen to Sri Lanka.
It happens in the form of delegations through the Sri Lankan embassy and in the near future, SLBC is planning to send another such delegation to Sri Lanka courtesy the embassy.
“We are also planning to create an online Job Bank. It will be a web page where people can log on to and find the business opportunities that we would be posting on it. There will be a lot of contacts and links on the portal as well,” says Abeypala.
Like SLBC, the Sri Lanka Community Benevolent Fund (SLCBF), has been active in another aspect of community welfare since 2007.
“We are looking after Sri Lankan expatriates in need. We help community members affected by natural disasters with the help of the Sri Lankan community and the embassy through SLCC,” A. Liyanage, Vice President, SLCBF, tells Community.
They regularly conduct blood donations besides holding free medical camps at the embassy.
“We have secured a fund which is collected and accumulated, so we are using it for whenever there is a need. We also have food stalls and other such activities at festivals and other big day celebrations and all the income from that goes into the fund,” he adds.
“People approach us in the hour of need; for instance, if anyone is stranded for lack of finances, we’ll arrange tickets for them. Similarly, we’ll arrange help for people needing any medical assistance,” says Liyanage.
“We are giving memberships and currently, we have fewer members in SLCBF so I would urge our community members to get a membership which is QR100 for a year and QR500 for lifetime,” says Lalindra De Silva, Treasurer, SLCBF.
He says they had some camp fires and other such incidents where they helped the affected people and so far the organisation has helped thousands affected in dozens of such incidents.
He says the organisation also helps people who lose their dwelling and basic necessities in fire or other disasters by getting them houses on rent and supporting them with the basic necessities for one or two months before they rehabilitate.
All community organisations however, are co-ordinated and work under SLCC which is run under the patronage of the Sri Lankan embassy in Qatar.
SLCC was officially launched in 2005 under the patronage of the-then Sri Lankan ambassador. One of the objectives was to co-ordinate between different community organisations that started emerging then and ensure that no events overlap and are organised properly.
POISE: A popular dance form that has been part of celebrations for the Sri Lankan community in Doha.
“There were about 150,000 Sri Lankans living here at that time and SLCC was established as a community arm of the embassy as there were certain barriers for the embassy to get involved in community activities so it did it through SLCC,” Lakmal Ehelamalpe, Treasurer, SLCC recalls.
If there are any communities or clubs that require affiliation with the Sri Lankan embassy, it has to go through SLCC so the committee acts as the bridge between the other community oganisations and the embassy, he adds.
“SLCC facilitates the participation of Sri Lankan community in the celebrations of important days in Qatar like the National Day or Sport Day. SLCC has been organising functions on a large scale which is not that easy a task but together we do it,” says Tenisan De Silva, the President of SLCC.
The Sri Lankan embassy, he adds, is always with them and has been supporting them all along.
“Our current ambassador, Prof. Dr W. M. Karunadasa, is very supportive. We are celebrating Sri Lankan Independence Day on February 5 and plan to host many cultural shows and musical programmes for Sri Lankans and we invite all the community members to be part of it,” says De Silva.
Apart from helping compatriots in Qatar, SLCC always comes forth to help the affected whenever there is any national disaster like a tsunami or something of that nature even in Sri Lanka.
“Our help and support is always there for anyone among the 120,000 Sri Lankan community members living here in Qatar. Every Sri Lankan can be and is a member of SLCC. There is an executive committee which is selected by the members,” explains De Silva.
“Fund raising is not an easy task but there are many Sri Lankan companies and members of the community who really come forward to make generous contributions,” says Pantolion Perera, Vice President, Fund Raising, SLCC.
De Silva and his colleagues thanked the Qatari government and the Sri Lankan ambassador Prof. Dr W. M. Karunadasa for their continuous support.
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