Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Celebrating 20 years of ECO-V - A personal note from the Founder


ECO-V is 20 years!! Can you all believe it? We started ECO-V on the 7th of February 2001. It was a very small meeting with my university friends; Sujani, Lal, Harsha and some of Thushara’s friends and my family members. We launched it officially as a new organization and then started working as a team. The first office was at the living room of our one-bedroom apartment in Moratuwa. I was 1 month pregnant with our first son Buhusuru, so ECO-V was our first child officially. We started working after winning the Rufford small grant from Whitley Fund for Nature (https://whitleyaward.org/). All happened just because I met Edward Whitley from WFN at the 10th anniversary celebrations of the Conservation leadership programme (https://www.conservationleadershipprogramme.org/) held at Natural History Museum in London in April 2000! It was like yesterday when Edward came to our table and had a chat with me during a small break while compering at the award ceremony.

At the award ceremony of WFN 

Our first working team, Harsha,Sujani,Sudharshi,Samanmalee and Lal

Being thankful!...

I should be very thankful to Catherine Gotto the Manager of CLP at that time for inviting me as the Mistress of Ceremonies to the event. If not, how could I meet Edward who suggested I should start an organisation while having a meeting at his home the next day? Also, I should be thankful to Cambridge 97 project team members - my dear friends Jules, Claire, Cathy and Chris who came to Sri Lanka after winning a grant from CLP in 1997. They were my mentors during the 3 months project around Sinharaja rain forest and later they supported me to attend Durrell Conservation academy in 1999 (https://training.durrell.org/). 

Meeting Claire and Jules in the UK, after 15 years of Sinharaja 97' 

Meeting Cathy in London during the visit in 2012

Me at Durrell in 2012 during a revisit. 

Going further back I should be in debt to my dear teacher/mentor Prof. Sarath Kotagama for selecting me to Sinharaja 97’ project as one of the Sri Lankan counterparts. All these people behind me were always remembered along with the ECO-V life story. Adding more to the story I should be remembering my dear father, Punchi Banda Weerakoon, my uncle Dr. A.T Ariyaratne and late Mr. K.D.R.N Wijesinghe the director of National Zoological garden who gave me advice, guidance and helped to select the honest and clear path in establishing the organization legally. How should I not be thankful to my loving husband Thushara for encouraging me to start the organization after Edward suggested but me having doubts about my capacity?

 Positive impact….

When I travelled through the memories while clicking on photographs in hundreds of folders in my external drive, I really can’t believe how much work we had done.  So many projects, so many activities took place within these 20 years. Numbers are not important to us but all stories we hear from people who have been following us, how they have made positive behavioral changes within themselves, individually and at family level, at working places and in the communities are the most important to us. We never had a permanent donor; we were depending on small grants, or some organizations who supported us short term. We never had a proper office like other organizations, it was only a dedicated area on a floor at our home (only twice we went out for a year but it was not the best environment for us). The team members were a family to us. My two kids grew up while watching our work. How we made plans for sustainable events attending to all minor details about minimizing our carbon footprint during such events, focusing on zero waste events or projects focusing its sustainability and long-term positive impacts, where our waste would end up and quality of work rather than numbers of attendees. In the early days Harsha and Lal helped me to carry my kids when we travelled to the field to do our work even during civil conflict in Sri Lanka. Kids were always around me when we had monthly “Thiresi” meetings for members. 

Kids enjoying water during our Leaf Monkey project

Lal carrying Nipuna during Pelican conservation work while Bandara helping Buhusuru

Today, I see the results of bringing up two boys in a very eco-friendly manner, when I see their leadership qualities in school or university clubs, their thinking on current issues, and their essays they write for university entrance applications or even for TED talks. One common comment I get from both of them is “Mother, thank you for making us feel guilty about what we want to do for fun!!!” Yes...it is very sarcastic comment but, I know that means they are thinking not only twice about their acts but many times before they want to get involved. Which is for me simply “conscious consumerism or eco-friendly thinking” what we have been preaching over 20 years. It is the behavioural change that we wanted to bring among individuals. Many past and current members of ECO-V must have got that thinking but for sure I know at least I have mentored two children where I see positive impact on Mother Nature! Of course, I can add my husband and myself into that list of people who changed positively via ECO-V activities. Whoever comes forward and says “I changed my one little behavior following ECO-V’s work will be an added bonus to our list of success stories!! This may sound like bragging about ECO-V, but to be honest, I know there are many like that as I have heard that comment so many times within these 20 years. We had beautiful time together learning and experiencing Nature during "Thiresi Charika" and monthly "Thiresi Meetings". 


Volunteers and my two boys experiencing a "Environmental Meditation" session during a "Thiresi Charika" 

During a monthly members meeting at our home - "Thiresi" meeting 

Bu and Nipu with me listening to our discussions of Nature during monthly "Thiresi" meetings 

Failures and challenges...

During these past 20 years, only one project ended up without a sustainability that was the Bellanwila-Attidiya sanctuary conservation work. It was due to government laws related to conservation status and then another project on Otters had to stop soon after we implemented as we could not secure funding. We regretted those two but all other projects ended up with very positive outcomes. Keeping and maintaining staff was always a challenge as we could not secure their jobs beyond the project period since we did not have permanent funding sources. So, nobody stayed with us beyond 3-4 years. We take it positively as we were able to train youngsters to do work faithfully and productively and also bring the behavioral change to themselves within the short period of work with us. Even today all my past staff members communicate, admire our days together and tell us how much change brought into their lives and many are still volunteering to us. Some have started their own organizations or movements. Isn't it great?? 

At our home based office, even team has to play with cats! 

Team meeting at home based office for Leaf monkey project team  

Planning team of Paapedi 2013 at our home based office 

Not a professional office but of course a skillful team - Team Paapedi 2013

I live outside of Sri Lanka now with my family but still ECO-V activities are taking place. Office is based at our home in Sri Lanka on an entire dedicated floor for office. There are no big projects currently but with activities with high positive impacts with services. Those services are not only for humans but also for other living beings! We don’t have huge grants but we have well-wishes who are supporting us in small ways (personally or as organizations) but just enough for us to bring the positive change. We still function as a voluntary organization, just like when we started and we will be, as our aim is to let people understand money is not everything. Just like Mother Earth giving her services to her children, we too try to give our services back to her and her children! 

Lessons learnt…

I am 20 years older than when I started ECO-V. When I look back, I have no regrets, but a huge satisfaction for being able to do so much voluntary work (Thanks to my husband, I never had a need to earn to feed my children). I might have done a little bit well in the finances side and found a big donor for ECO-V to do more work but….that was my capacity and may be this is what I was destined to do. Therefore, I take it as a positive karma!

Global impact…

With the experience gained through building up ECO-V, I managed to co-found Journeys for Climate Justice in Australia (https://www.journeysforclimatejustice.org.au/), and Edible Routes Foundation in India (https://www.facebook.com/edibleroutesfoundation/). I enjoy work at International level through these organisations and many networks that we work together to bring up positive change to the world of conservation.

  My interpretation….

Well for me, I was born to this world to do this service mostly as a volunteer. May be making money is not my destiny during this birth but the service to all living beings is what I have to do which I am happy about. As a founder of an organization this may be a failure. But I am not regretting as I have understood myself and anyway we have done our best to protect Mother Nature and will be doing it with money or without money. We used to make cloth tote bags and eco friendly greeting cards and sell them to raise funds and we still do such activities as raising funds vis such activities are very helpful for us to get developed our skills. 

Me painting the cloth tote bags to sell and raise funds. 

ECO-V is like a beautiful river still flowing 20 years! Sometimes splashing water, sometimes meandering, facing boulders steadily,   slowing down around deep puddles, running when needed flow silently along the valleys. Creating beautiful water falls down the hills and carrying and planting the seeds along its banks. Small streams keep giving water on the way so it will not get dried. That's just enough to see ECO-V as a river. It is there to drink water, take a bath, use for growing plants or just listen to the sound and enjoy but never stoppable by a dam because we will flow over the dam nourishing more lands helping more beings until it meets the great ocean.  Don’t know when. Until then May you all see it as a beautiful river and enjoy it!!


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