The Beginnings of Little Aid
It was the peak time of the civil war; tensions were running high in the diaspora community as blood was shed freely. Marches and protests were carried out in London, Toronto and Paris round the clock. Text messages and emails were being sent out every hour. During that time all wanted to contribute something to relieve the suffering of the people devastated by the war but didn’t know what to do or whom to turn to. During that tense time Little Aid was formed as a charity in the UK by likeminded individuals – Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims – their unity easily forged by their care for humanity transcending politics.
It was but a coincidence that the official date of the commencement of registration of the new charity was 18 May 2009, the day the civil war was officially ended.
The First Mission
Little Aid started to function in March 2009 even before it was formally registered, first supplying fresh vegetables and infant milk powder to the IDP camps in the Chettikulam area. The founder of Little Aid, Tarrin Constantine, an entrepreneur from the UK, visited the IDP camps in the Vanni in March 2009. During his visit he met the Vavuniya Government Agent Mrs Charles and some high ranking government officials and senior politicians. During this meeting he convinced the officials that his mission would be completely humanitarian, Little Aid would be very transparent and he would take full responsibility for the mission. Little Aid’s Sri Lankan representative, Dr Nimal Kariyawasam, a returnee from the UK, was the main coordinator of the projects. These links facilitated Little Aid’s undisrupted direct access to the IDP camps in Chettikulam at the peak of human suffering in the period April – July 2009. Little Aid donated thousands of textbooks and stationery to the children in the IDP camps.
During that time transporting the aid to the North was a nightmare. Lorries had to unload all their contents in Mathavatchi for checking and another vehicle had to come from the North and load the goods to take them to the North. But Little Aid managed to overcome these obstacles, because of the open and transparent nature of its mission.
Extension to Child Soldiers
After July 2009 Little Aid started to concentrate on LTTE child soldiers. During one of the visits by a diaspora team, their request for permission to engage in this line of work was made directly to Hon Basil Rajapaksa, then special advisor to the President. From that opening Little Aid organised music lessons at Ambepussa Camp where the first batch of surrendered or captured LTTE soldiers were kept. These children were given lessons in modern and classical music and became so good that later they conducted several music programmes before appreciative audiences.
Little Aid’s activities moved to a different and higher level of engagement when, upon Little Aid’s initiative, the Denmark-based charity “Medicine without Borders” donated over 3 million sterling pounds worth of medicine through Little Aid to Sri Lanka. Vavuniya General Hospital, Jaffna General Hospital, Kayts Base Hospital, Pamunugama Hospital and Nawalapitya General Hospital were the beneficiaries of this huge drugs donation. Another Denmark charity “Global Medical Aid,” donated some equipment to Little Aid that was donated to Vavuniya Hospital. All these projects were fully funded by the Danish Government organisation DANIDA.
Inclusive Philosophy of Little Aid
Little Aid believes in equal rights and basic human dignity to all, regardless of ethnic labels. In pursuance of this vision, during the heavy flooding in May 2010, Little Aid distributed dry foods to flood victims in Gampaha. This project was coordinated by the Rev. Fr. Ananda Withana, the parish priest attached to the Pamunugama church. Little Aid also constructed an internet centre in Panangoda Army Camp for severely injured soldiers. Little Aid believes that investing in humanity is the need of the hour. Visiting several parts of Sri Lanka over 10 trips from the UK recently, Tarrin Constantine believes that the needs of the people have far exceeded what the world can offer them. It is vital, therefore, that all organisations and NGOs pool their resources and work together so that the scarce resources available are strategically deployed to maximise their effectiveness.
Little Aid has many unique qualities that set an example. Little Aid is the only charity that has Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslim as founder members and trustees. Also it is the only charity that has helped ex LTTE carders as well as injured Sri Lankan soldiers. Currently Little Aid is funding the studies of over 150 children in Mannar and Kayts areas. These children are being looked after by men in Holy Orders with De La Salle Brothers in Mannar and St Anthony’s College Kayts. Two temples in London are financing this project. Little Aid is proud to say that Hindu Temples in London are funding Catholic institutions in Sri Lanka and these inter-religious ventures of cooperation are proof of how easily communities can live and work together when the humanity in each of us is given free rein.
All at Little Aid are proud to work with humanitarian workers from different organisations, different religions, and ethnic backgrounds, bringing people together from all walks of life to help people who are the most at need in Sri Lanka. Little Aid strongly believes in having a transparent and open agenda. It is believed that Little Aid is the only Sri Lankan diaspora charity that publishes its accounts online.
Little Aid believes that in this competitive world all right thinking countries are equipping their youths with education so that they can face the challenges of life, well-equipped to meet such challenges. But we in Sri Lanka were equipping our young, our future, with arms that brought us nothing but misery and all of us to our knees. The Tamil community has lost two generations in the war and it cannot afford to lose any time in advancing reconstruction because of rivalries and inane competition. Tarrin Constantine says unity is the way forward; and that it is the one and only way. We have learnt this the hard way. Our country has gone though much more than its fair share. And in the name of freedom, all communities have damaged each other, including themselves.
Little Aid is currently operating a computer training centre in the North (Kilinochchi) and a Children Home in Kayts. Little Aid runs its landmark model project in Killinochchi where 100 youngsters are getting free computer training, Spoken English and sewing classes. Tarrin Constantine is visiting Sri Lanka to formally visit this project and also open the two libraries which they built in Osmania Muslim College in Jaffna and St Roche Catholic School in Kurunagar Jaffna. Little Aid is also trying to work with local charities deep down in the South to open another computer training centre there and welcomes established organisations sharing its vision to join hands with it in building a new and bright future for those who have suffered for too long.
To view Little Aid’s projects and accounts details. Visit http://littleaid.org.uk/accounts/