Knowledge empowers

Laknath Pieris says reading is the key to building up a strong, self-reliant community
By Tahnee Hopman and Myanthi Peiris

Reading is the key to self-development, progress and the future, says community worker Laknath Pieris, the man behind a special programme to encourage young people to read more. He believes the reading habit is essential if we are to see positive change in the lives of our people.

Mr. Pieris and a team of volunteers will launch a special reading programme, titled “Sri Lanka Reads”, which will be held in the first week of November. He believes the gap between rich and poor can be bridged by knowledge, and to this end he and his team are helping to build up knowledge bases, or libraries, at grassroots level around the country. He says the acquisition of knowledge through reading should be an ongoing process.

“To gain knowledge, you have to cultivate reading habits, whatever your line of work,” Mr. Pieris says. “That is the only way you can keep in touch with new developments. You have to keep updating yourself with the latest knowledge and information.”

The “Sri Lanka Reads” programme is part of a larger community project, “Savijana”, launched in 2005 and inspired by the tsunami tragedy of 2004. In the days following the tragedy, Mr. Pieris, armed with his camera, visited devastated areas and recorded scenes of death and destruction. The experience changed his life. Over the past four years, Mr. Pieris has devoted much of his time to working for the welfare of the community, through his Savijana programme.

“I don’t have money. I have given my time and skills to network organisations, individuals and do something for society. My idea of serving the people is through knowledge, technology and networking.”
A chartered accountant by profession, Mr. Pieris says professionals have an important role to play in helping the less fortunate members of the community. “The world has a population of 20 billion, and if all the professionals get together, we can eliminate poverty,” he says.

Savijana – the name combines the Sinhala words for “strength” and “people” – is an ambitious community project designed to help and empower the community. Mr. Pieris has identified three broad areas to be addressed by his Savijana programme: education, agro-development, and business development.

“A basic knowledge of finance is essential to survive in society, and to get this knowledge we must cultivate good reading habits,” he says. Mr. Pieris has visited more than 150 schools and community centres in rural areas and spoken to school principals, teachers and children. He noted that half of the schools had no library facilities. He says that only 50 percent of Sri Lanka’s 9,500 schools have library facilities.

So far, with the help of local and foreign charity organisations, he and his team of volunteers have helped stock and equip 103 schools and community centres in the Puttalam and Matale districts. Some of the organisations that have contributed to the Savijana library services programme are also helping to maintain these library services.

He quoted sobering statistics about the country’s youth and their low level of education, which he attributes to a lack of enthusiasm for reading:

  • Every year, some 18 percent of Sri Lanka’s students (80,000) drop out of school before completing their Ordinary Level examination;
  • Last year (2007), 52 percent of O/Level students (174,000) failed their O/L examination;
  • A high failure rate was noted in such key subjects as Mathematics (51 percent), Science (51 percent), and English (60 percent).

“I set great store by knowledge, and the opportunities that can be gained from technological advances. My mission is to build grassroots knowledge societies. I want to communicate to the people that if they get together, we can have a big impact.

After the tsunami, everything in my life changed. This was when I decided that I wanted to make a difference. I didn’t want to give to charity, but I wanted to do something constructive for the people. My heart is with the poor people. I want to give people the confidence to pull themselves out of their difficulties. We need to make the future a foreseeable reality.

Laknath Pieris: Man behind special programme

The first step towards achieving this is by improving reading habits.” Mr. Pieris is also a believer in helping people to help themselves. “What I want to do is give people a fishing rod to fish, instead of giving them the fish itself,” he says. “Instead of doling out charity, I want to bring about a constructive, positive change in these people’s lives.”

Mr. Pieris’s efforts to build libraries and promote reading in rural areas have been appreciated.

“Having library facilities in our school has greatly helped us,” said R. P. Nimalsiri, Director of Education in Mundal. “The students are extremely privileged to have this benefit.”

W. S. Rosairo Peiris, chairman of the Mudukadu community centre, said he was “ever grateful” for the opportunity given to his village.

Contribute to reading programme

Savijana is to launch a special reading programme in the first week of November, and members of the public are invited to contribute to the cause.

“Martin Luther King once said that every individual has the chance to be great, because every individual has the chance to serve. We want everyone to be a part of our vision for the children of Sri Lanka,” says community worker Laknath Peiris.

Contributions to the books and reading promotion programme will be collected by Savijana volunteers. To make a contribution, write to or, giving your name and address. Your contribution will be collected.

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