“We are as restless as you, for that amazing imagined future where exploitation and corruption and poverty are not used to victimise innocent people who can’t stand up for themselves.”
– Chevaan Daniel, Bali Indonesia, 2018.
Gammadda is a Sinhalese word that translates to, ‘heart of the village’. It is also the name of a development movement sweeping across Sri Lanka. Chevaan Daniel is one of the key drivers behind this movement, that was established in 2013, to improve the livelihood of rural Sri Lankans.
Mr Daniel grew up in Sri Lanka and began his career at the Capital Maharaja Organisation as a part-time typist. He is now head of the news media network and also spearheads several international business operations. Mr Daniel is a Fulbright Scholar, an Eisenhower Global Fellow and has become an active voice for rural communities in Sri Lanka where he lives with his wife and son.
Gammadda began from a collective frustration with the ineffectiveness of government process in improving the lives of many Sri Lankan people. For 100 days a year, News First employees, Peradeniya University students and a network of volunteers and locals work together on 100 village-level projects ranging from building water purification systems to constructing elephant fences.
The movement is well on its way to achieving its target of 1000 local projects aimed at alleviating poverty and uplifting social and economic standards. Mr Daniel uses Capital’s media platform to inspire countless Sri Lankans to take part in Gammadda.
The Capital Maharaja Organisation also uses its network, to raise awareness in Sri Lanka of modern slavery and related exploitation. Its radio shows broadcast information to Sri Lankans who are travelling to the Middle East to find work and could be at risk of exploitation. Capital also hosts an open radio hour where members of the public can dial in and report missing friends or family members who have not been heard from since moving abroad.
Mr Daniel accepted Walk Free’s invitation to the inaugural Bali Process Government and Business Forum (BPGBF) in Perth, Western Australia in 2017 and also attended the summit in Nusa Dua the following year. On both occasions he spoke of the harsh realities faced by migrant workers who travel to the Gulf States for work, and the importance of BPGBF and similar initiatives addressing this problem.
“I had two million reasons to come to Perth,” Mr Daniel said.
“Two million Sri Lankans live and work in mostly unskilled labour in the Middle East. More often than not, they’re abused and exploited. When I met you, I knew I had friends I could fight with shoulder to shoulder .”
Mr Daniel was also vocal in his support of Walk Free’s work advocating for the passage of the Australian Modern Slavery Act, in December last year.
“Today, Australia is giving the world renewed hope,” Mr Daniel said at the time.
“With the adoption of the modern-day slavery bill, the Australian people have risen above the encumbrances of politics and commerce. The adoption of this bill is a forerunner to what will be a wave of similar legislature in the region, freeing millions in the process.
“The people of these nations will soon begin to ask their governments, ‘If Australia can, why can’t we?’ Indeed. Why can’t we?”
Along with other Sri Lankan business leaders Mr Daniel is developing initiatives to ensure ethical and transparent recruitment practices, to tackle the challenges of modern slavery in his region. These are priorities that are shared by BPGBF, and are challenges its business network is also working to address.
Chevaan Daniel continues to act as a tireless advocate for his people, not only for prioritising the crucial work of projects like Gammadda but for pursing broader policy change that will make a difference globally.