Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Diaspora – how can they effectively contribute to their homeland?

The Sri Lankan Diaspora is estimated at about 4 million. 2 million of whom carry Sri Lankan passports, and 90% of that 2 million are temporary workers on renewable work visas, in countries, mainly in the Middle East, but also includes, workers in Cyprus, Korea, Singapore, Maldives and undocumented workers in Italy.

The expected remittances directly through banks and indirectly through other means from the workers alone in 2013 is estimated at US$8 Billion a staggering 20% of the US$40B GNP of SL. Let there be no illusion, it is simply this remittance that keeps the country afloat, and the Government drowning in waste and extravagance. These 1.8 million workers with Sri Lankan citizenship who remit their earnings to Sri Lanka DO NOT have a vote in Sri Lanka, and many are not on the electoral roll in the Country, owing to them being overseas. In short they are disenfranchised, and I have no doubt that their vote could make a difference in the way Sri Lanka is governed.

Of the remainder of the Diaspora, there are 80,000 students who are working and studying, some who receive money from their families in Sri Lanka for their education, estimated at about US$1B per annum flowing out of SL.

Then the rest form a large segment who have permanently settled in Europe, Americas and Australasia, with about 400,000 who were born in Sri Lanka but have opted for citizenship in their host country, and the rest about 1.5million, their children and grandchildren who were born overseas, and have generally little connection to their parent’s land of birth, but who often identify themselves as from Sri Lanka and are entitled to be referred to as Diaspora.

I myself having lived overseas for over 33 years of my life, mainly in the UK and the USA, having studied, gone to university and worked in different fields and in many capacities, feel I have a stake in this discussion, and would appreciate comments from my readership, which is overwhelmingly US based.

I returned with no regrets in the prime of my life to help in whatever small way I can, and as the followers of my blogs all these years know, have had somewhat mixed experiences of the good and bad. My related blogs as noted at the top right in this blog, give details of life in Sri Lanka and the experiences I referred to. 8 years as a working farmer in Polonnaruwa, living through the years of conflict has been an experience, I would not exchange with anything!
The article with the link below in yesterday’s Huffington Post tries to answer in some way how the latter Diaspora, can help. The temporary workers cannot be asked to do more than they already are, and so it is to the other category of Sri Lankan ex pats, mostly holding citizenship in their host countries, that I address the subject matter of this essay.

I would ask you, do you wish to help? IF so who in Sri Lanka do you wish to help? How would you like to channel your help? as you wish to be comfortable that your assistance is actually going to the cause which you hold dear.

If you have followed my blog you will realize that I, being at the ground level have helped numerous people over many causes over a long period of time. Some have benefitted, others have taken advantage of the kindness. I still have not come to a definitive answer as to what is the most effective way of assisting so that there is a long term social benefit from it for the recipients.

My life today, is not devoted to farming, but is almost exclusively in social work, community work, and helping individuals with their issues, many of whose demands and requests are unreasonable and difficult to fulfill.

The link refers to a group who assists students from disadvantaged families in achieving their goals, of a basic education. I am tackling this same issue from the other side, of the providers of education, the state, in coming up with some form of document, as a blue print to provide the framework for a real education, not just literacy and school attendance none of which guarantees a person the ability to master living in the competitive world they find themselves in. This will I hope ensure that the scarce funds spent by the State is directed in the most productive and cost effective manner, with the quality of the output being the result! That result and how that 17 year old who decides to pursue their lives will determine if this is the right approach.

In my opinion, the resources put into asking the question, and then answering it in a well defined manner, taking into account expert opinion, is a needed objective, if Sri Lanka is to maximize on the true potential of our children. There is no point paying for a child through his University years, with books and living costs, if he is unable to find a job at the end of it. It is better to set up the framework where there is a definite method of living, where he can even borrow needed funds to achieve, knowing he can repay, and then some.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your questions to the diaspora: do you wish to help? IF so who in Sri Lanka do you wish to help? How would you like to channel your help?

My question back to you is who needs "help" in Sri Lanka, versus "helping" others in any other society? It seems to me that the government of Sri Lanka is fairly functional and delivers social services of an adequate quality to the masses, to the extent that the GOSL should be providing such services (of course any government service can and should be constantly improved, non-partisan voices are free to correct me if I'm mistaken). As you have pointed out in your blogs, medical care costs a pittance compared to Western countries, education is free, and public safety is now secure.

I would say that those that should be "helped" by those that are living in the comfort of their Western abodes are the citizens of SL that were affected by the war, as they are disproportionately disadvantaged compared to someone for example living in Matara that hardly felt the effects of the war in terms of personal security, infrastructure, social services, livelihood, etc. and is recipient of the largesse of the social programs of the state.

I would also say that the questions above should not only be directed at diaspora. There are many good-willed people in Western countries that are seeking to escape the vacuous lives they have established for themselves there, and if you give them some motivation they will "help." I think it's a hard sell to "help" a farmer in Gampaha, but "helping" a war-affected farmer's family in the middle of the Northern Province somewhere seems to be a compelling cause, and more should be done to help establish livelihoods.