In a world absorbed in scientific and material ventures that even lead men to the moon, we easily lose sight of that greatest frontier in man himself. On this centenary of Mahatma Gandhi's birth, the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, led by A. T. ARIYARATNE in Ceylon, reassuringly confirms man's response to challenges of the spirit.
A Sinhala and a Buddhist, ARIYARATNE first acted against injustice while a college student. Sharing his pocket money with an impoverished, old woman, he learned greedy middlemen paid her too little even for food, though she spun coconut coir 10 hours a day six days a week. Undeterred by a stabbing intended to thwart him, he organized the Coir Workers Cooperation Society that improved the spinners' lot and still flourishes.
Seeking national concern for the poor, ARIYARATNE investigated all of Ceylon's then 20 odd political parties, the responsible government agencies, and religious groups, but found scant promise of social change. It was from study of the works of Acharya Vinoba Bhave, Gandhi's leading disciple, that he became imbued with the idea of voluntary service based on truth, non-violence and self-denial.
Remembering Bhave's admonition that without personal sharing any movement would prove a delusion, ARIYARATNE began in Ceylon by inviting donation of labor from colleagues at Nalanda College, where he was teaching. From ancient Ceylonese tradition he evolved the concept of sarvodaya shramadana, meaning to share one's time, thought and energy for the welfare of all.
In 1958, 75 teachers and students of the College went to the outcast village of Kanatolowa. Working with villagers to sink wells, dig latrine pits, clear home gardens and start a school, these volunteers gave the "untouchables" their first sense of human dignity through shared generosity. Requests from other villages followed for similar Shramadana camps where volunteers concentrated their labor on weekends and during vacations upon specific "felt needs" that could be accomplished with donated resources.
Under ARIYARATNE's magnetic leadership, Sarvodaya Shramadana became the largest national voluntary movement. Members had only to subscribe to "service for all" and give seven days a year. Other college and university groups, Buddhist monks, doctors, government and factory employees and industrialists joined the crusade. Learning the real needs of their country, these volunteers helped eradicate distrust resulting from caste, race, creed and party politics. Self-confidence generated in villagers produced sustained improvement efforts.
After five years, the Movement acquired legal status as the Lanka Jatika Sarvodaya Shramadana Sangamaya. Now an "approved charity" with a small professional staff and its resource of 75,000 trained, young volunteers throughout the country, the Movement is honoring the Gandhi Centenary by seeking to transform 100 villages with its message of spiritual ennoblement and volunteers targeted on projects discriminatingly selected and planned.
In electing AHANGAMAGE TUDOR ARIYARATNE to receive the 1969 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, the Board of Trustees recognizes his founding and inspired guidance of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, combining voluntary service in meeting village needs with an awakening of man's potential when he cultivates his best instincts.