Rotaracts Carry the Torch of Peace through Service

Sri Lanka is an ancient civilization with generationally entrenched traditions and strict laws. Many of the modern customs in this island nation remain strictly traditional, creating closed systems for some who are considered outside the standards of cultural norms. One disenfranchised group on the island, in particular, faces isolation, poverty, and little hope for a brighter future. Women living with HIV and AIDS are frequently marginalized, neglected, and discriminated against in Sri Lanka because the HIV virus is stereotypically linked with promiscuity. Poor sexual education and a large migrant workforce exacerbate this stereotype. Employers refuse to hire these women and this leaves them with few options but begging or selling homespun trinkets on the streets to support themselves or their families. Their lives are full of constant hardships and inequality, creating the types of institutional despair and hopelessness that plant seeds of societal conflict.

Rotaract Club of Edulink International Campus, Western Province, Sri Lanka, winners of Rotary International’s 2018 Rotaract Outstanding Project Award.

The Rotaract Club of Edulink International Campus, Western Province, Sri Lanka, recognized the suffering of these women and decided to champion their human rights. According to Rotary International, Rotaract clubs “bring together people ages 18-30 to exchange ideas with leaders in the community, develop leadership and professional skills, and have fun through service.” Rotaract clubs are sponsored by local Rotary clubs but enjoy general autonomy in organizing and running their clubs, managing funds, along with planning and carrying out their own activities and service projects.

The Rotaract Club of Edulink International Campus organized in 2014 and is only one of over 10,000 Rotaract clubs around the world. The club is sponsored by the Rotary Club of Colombo. In just five short years, these enterprising Sri Lankan Rotaracts have captured the attention of the entire Rotary world through their innovative service projects. The club has won over 13 awards since 2017 for their outstanding humanitarian initiatives. Their positive peace projects are visionary and designed to lift disenfranchised members of their community into intelligent acceptance and essential human connections in broader society. Rotary International honored them at the RI Convention in Toronto with The 2018 Rotaract Outstanding Project Award for one such visionary project, The Dream Store, a full entrepreneurial program and platform for women living with HIV and AIDS in Sri Lanka.

Rotarian peacebuilders understand peace actions often originate in championing the dignity and value of marginalized groups, as declared in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While many native Sri Lankans or tourists viewed these women as untouchable beggars or simple street vendors, Rotaracts envisioned possibilities of empowerment and life-changing value in their struggles. They noted that many of these outcast women offered hand made jewelry and other crafts as they gathered on streets and in public spaces to earn a living. These women weren’t viewed as street vendors or beggars through the eyes of Rotaracts; they were artisans and designers, entrepreneurs and community stakeholders, who could become strong businesswomen if given the training and opportunity to succeed.

The Rotaracts asked critical questions and sought advice from local business experts and wise Rotarians. The resulting Dream Store is an internationally award-winning project, because it combines youthful idealism with practical business knowledge and 114 years of collective Rotarian service experience.

First, the Dream Store project developed training classes to enhance the trade skills of these entrepreneurs or teach them new ones. Participants are screened to receive 16 basic training courses in business operations and personal finance.

Importantly, the Rotaracts recruited corporate sponsors to secure a regular customer base for Sri Lanka’s newly empowered businesswomen. Artisan crafts made by these women are now displayed for sale in the largest gift shop in Sri Lanka.

Finally, Sri Lankan venture capitalists were employed to help expand the handmade products into retail outlets nationwide, and products were linked to online platforms such as,, These original Sri Lankan artisan crafts can now be sold internationally. The funds from all purchases are sent directly to the women’s bank accounts. The project raised over LKR 60,000 just in the first two weeks from launch and continues to provide a sustainable livelihood while supporting the dreams of these Sri Lankan women.

The Dream Store teaches entrepreneurial skills to women living with HIV+. The Rotaracts secured a market for these entrepreneurs in one of the largest gift shops in Sri Lanka and also online.

According to past president of the Rotaract Club of Edulink International Campus, Nipun Peiris, the Dream Store project seeks even higher ideals than much needed economic empowerment for women living with HIV and AIDS in Sri Lanka. This Rotaract club is intent on educating their entire island nation about the HIV virus and dispelling scientifically outdated stigmas surrounding the virus by helping the general public realize how those living with HIV+ are vital contributors to society. The Dream Store’s commercial enterprises are combined with public education about HIV and AIDS in Sri Lanka. These young Rotaracts seek nothing less than to restore dignity and acceptance for people in their community who are institutionally discarded and shunned based largely upon misinformation and fear.

“Before, these women were unemployed, because no one would hire them,” says Peiris. “They had no choice but to beg on the street.”

Members of the Rotaract Club of Edulink International Campus, Western Province, Sri Lanka, pose with their many awards for outstanding contributions to Rotarian peacebuilding.

This Dream Store project, conceived and implemented by young Rotaractors, also personifies the hopes and dreams of many older Rotarian peacebuilders because Rotaracts represent the future of Rotary International. Although seasoned Rotarians and community leaders contributed to the implementation and success of this project, it was primarily achieved through the vision of hard-working young people who are inspired by Rotary’s humanitarian ideals. Moreover, these Rotaracts exemplify a general youthful movement toward even deeper empathy and inclusion of all disenfranchised and oppressed groups, around the world, in the 21st century. They are a glimpse into bright new horizons of positive peacebuilding within Rotary International.

“The recognition (of Rotary International) confirms our hard work and the obstacles we overcame,” says past president Peiris.

Peiris and these young Rotaractors echo the words of Paul Harris: “Whatever Rotary may mean to us, to the world it will be known by the results it achieves.” The vision of Paul Harris and the humanitarian peacebuilding mission of Rotary International is a torch that is in good and caring hands of the next generation of Rotarian peacebuilders.

Rotaract Club of Edulink International Campus, Western Province, Sri Lanka, recent awards 2017-2018

– Most Outstanding Revived Club of the Year

– Most Outstanding President of the Year – Rtr. Nipun Sachintha Peiris

– Platinum Award for the Most Outstanding Community Support Programme – Dream Store

– Platinum Award for the Most Outstanding Community Service Project in the category of ‘Maternal and Child Healthcare’  – Andurata             Eliyak

– Platinum Award for the Most Outstanding Professional Development Project (External) – Spark

– Gold Award for the Best Annual Report

– Silver Award for the Most Outstanding International Service Project – Culturepedia

– President of the Month for September – Rtr. Nipun sachintha Peiris

– Honors for Spirit of Service – Rtr. Chirath Jayasri

– Award of Recognition – Gammaane – Inter District Youth Exchange Programme

– Award of Recognition – Rotaract For Trail

The club also received the following Awards:

– Most Outstanding Community Service Project of South Asia – Aloka Dhara (Awarded at Rotaract South Asia MDIO Awards Ceremony)

– Most Significant Public Image Project – Kidney Walk (Awarded at the Rotary District Awards Night)