© Viluthu 2021
Viluthu envisions an inclusive and socially cohesive society which practices participatory democracy and enjoys gender equality, economic and social justice and equitable development.
Viluthu refers to, in Tamil, the hanging roots of the Banyan Tree. Just as the hanging roots of the banyan tree support and nourish the branches to spread far and wide, this organization supports and strengthens people’s networks and organizations of affected communities.
Founded in 2003, during the cease fire peacebuilding process in Sri Lanka, we have continued to work during the war and after the end of violent conflict to enhance women and youth participation, provide access and relief to the most marginalized groups and improve understanding and relationships between and among different ethnic and religious communities in Sri Lanka. Our efforts have been focused on primarily conflict affected and vulnerable people.
Viluthu was founded by the late Shanthi Satchithanandam, the renowned human rights activist, with the vision of creating a social movement for change. Many of our foundational values of being people-centred, rights based and interdisciplinary in our approach to context analysis comes from her strong convictions in the same values.
We started by creating strong organic women’s grassroots networks to engage and address issues arising in conflict affected areas, now known as Samasam. Given the increasing focus on women heads of households and ensuring that they had strong negotiating powers and capacities to engage meaningfully in policy directives, we also supported the creation and growth of the Amara forum for women heads of households in 2011 which has now increased to 20,000 members. Similarly we have numerous youth societies and groups ranging in membership of 1500 youth members who are capacitated to act as change agents and support campaigns and community efforts for peacebuilding and sustainable development.
Viluthu has nearly 80% female leadership in our highest offices. One strong focus of our endeavours has been to enhance women’s political participation and policy interventions. This led to the creation of the grassroots owned Widows Charter (2015), a first for not only Sri Lanka, but the region itself . This charter has subsequently informed the drafting of the National Policy on Female Heads of Households and Action Plan. This has lent strength to the first National and District Platform of Women for Transitional Justice and Reconciliation (TJR) across the country. Formed in 2018 in partnership with Women’s Development Centre, the platform is the largest, geographically and ethnically diverse platform which exclusively concerns itself with TJR issues. The 160 representatives of the platform are connected to approximately 15,000 women members.
While we have expanded from our inception to work with a wide variety of stakeholders, ranging from government officials, academics, political representatives, journalists and institutions, women and youth groups form the backbone of our work.
The above quote and its philosophy were the pulse that motivated Viluthu’s founder Shanthi Sachithanandam, who was both the vision and instrument through which Viluthu came into being.
Viluthu was founded for building people’s movements. It is our heartfelt belief that when people come together, organize and are further empowered through skill and knowledge development and opportunities that change will happen. Our 17 year history stand as testimony of the individuals who have lived by this and the strength of such social movements.
At the very core, we are guided by our principles regarding participatory good governance and rights based peace building. We have expanded our wings as a grassroots mobilization organization, acting as a mentor and facilitator, who has guided women and youth networks and community based organizations to grow, address issues in their communities as well as go beyond to connect and lobby change in a wider landscape, at local and national and regional levels.
Our approach has the twin mission of strengthening the capacities of these groups for civic engagement as well as other stakeholders such as the media, academica and larger civil society networks to engage meaningfully with them and lend a platform for voice, in addition to representing their issues. This enables us to enhance collaboration and bridge gaps between grassroots advocacy and other efforts to promote good governance, human rights, gender equality and peace.
Our programme is dynamic people-centred in order to be able to adapt to the very serious challenges we see foresee for marginalised people, from the unequal impacts of a global pandemic to the increasing challenges in facing climate emergencies, particularly for those living in volatile and conflict affected contexts.
From our humble beginnings in a small office in Colombo, we have branched out to 10 districts in Sri Lanka, through district offices as well through key partnerships with other networks/groups. Through it all, we have strived, as a team, to constantly reflect the needs and concerns and ambitions of our grassroots constituencies.
We sincerely thank our partners and donors, who have believed in us and joined our journey, staying with us over the many years and extending crucial support and guidance. At the same time, we also hope that our approach and priorities guide others in the same field. As a representative of national, regional and global networks, forums and committees, we strongly believe in the need for and promotion of people’s groups and networks in its various forms around the world in achieving the promotion and protection of rights; the formation of transparent, accountable and participatory processes and mechanisms; and the promotion and realisation of social justice in every possible way. If our goal is to truly leave no one behind, let us start with those who are the most marginalised, most deprived and the most silenced.
We have worked with and for grassroots collectives, particularly women and youth groups, in order for the protection and promotion of rights as well as to improve access and delivery of services. At community level, we further have close connections to religious dignitaries, community leaders, political representatives and Rural Development Society (RDS) and Women’s Rural Development Societies (WRDS).
We have cultivated close partnerships with government officials ranging from district, provincial and national levels, in departments such as Legal, Education and Social Services sectors.