For the past two decades, Kanchana Weerakoon has been making the case that small changes can lead to big results. A longtime advocate for all things environmental, she founded Eco Friendly Volunteers (ECO-V), a nonprofit voluntary organisation in 2001 with the goal of inspiring others to lead an eco-centric lifestyle and do their part to [...]


Spreading the green message

Founded by Kanchana Weerakoon, ECO-V in its 20-year journey has conducted programmes islandwide and created leaders and dedicated volunteers among all age groups

In step with nature: Kanchana Weerakoon

For the past two decades, Kanchana Weerakoon has been making the case that small changes can lead to big results. A longtime advocate for all things environmental, she founded Eco Friendly Volunteers (ECO-V), a nonprofit voluntary organisation in 2001 with the goal of inspiring others to lead an eco-centric lifestyle and do their part to restore the environment.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, ECO-V has completed over 250 projects across the country with the help of over 1000 dedicated volunteers aiding in research and community work for conservation of the environment. Despite the undeniable impact ECO-V has had over the years, Kanchana confesses that founding an organization was not a path she had ever imagined for herself. Having completed a degree in Natural Sciences from the Open University of Sri Lanka as well as a diploma in Endangered Species Management from the University of Kent in 2000, she went on to pursue the Master of Philosophy programme at the University of Colombo that same year. Yet she only ever envisioned  working alongside other passionate professionals for a local zoo or even the Department of Wildlife Conservation.

It was only after a chance meeting in London with renowned British environmentalist, Edward Whitley, that the seed of ECO-V would begin to take root in her mind. Following his suggestion to create such an organization and subsequently winning a Rufford Small Grant in 2001, Eco Friendly Volunteers was established on February 7.

In their journey towards biodiversity conservation, climate change awareness and mitigation and promoting sustainability and conscious consumerism, ECO-V has fostered many ‘green leaders’ through their informative programmes for adults, youth and children. “Nature is the best subject we could inculcate into the future leaders to work towards sustainable development- if we really want to protect our nature, we have to plant those beautiful seeds in these youngsters’ minds,” says Kanchana. One of their most successful programmes is Yathras (Journeys) conducted in partnership with Journeys for Climate Justice, an Australian organisation co-founded by Kanchana in 2010. In this biannual programme, volunteers from every community are selected and educated on climate change matters and ‘empowered equally to correct these human created deviations’ according to Kanchana.

planting beautiful seeds in young minds

Introduced in 2011, participants set out on a ‘zero waste’ journey travelling by bike for 10-12 days from location to location. Getting familiar with nature through activities like horticulture therapy, birdwatching and environmental meditation, they also raise awareness on climate change when passing through villages conducting street dramas, sticker campaigns, movie nights and more. Having trained over 500 of these change-makers on topics such as sustainable living by saving energy and leading a minimalist lifestyle, Kanchana says that once the programmeis concluded, the participants return to their own villages and work to make change and conduct programmes such as tree planting and implementing waste management systems.

Since relocating to New Delhi with her family four years ago, Kanchana has travelled frequently  to Colombo to oversee ECO-V’s progress. However, with the travel restrictions Kanchana can only do so virtually now. Yet, ECO-V is hardly at a standstill. Around the corner from the ECO-V office located in Boralesgamuwa is the organisation’s serene ‘metta’ garden established in 2015. Started with the aim of creating a harmonious living space for animals and plants as well as growing organic produce, ECO-V also continued its service throughout the lockdown period at the garden.

Following the collapse of the Meethotamulla garbage heap in 2017, they saw the opportunity to encourage neighbours to bring in their kitchen waste to be made use of for compost. Educational programmes were shifted online with Kanchana conducting her popular ‘nature kids’ programmes virtually. Initiated in 2012, children are taught to connect with nature through the five sensory organs. She  has also introduced the programme in India where it has gained momentum.

While the pandemic has been challenging for all, Kanchana says there’s a lot to learn from this unique situation. She says that for many, the past year and a half  put into perspective the extent of the harm inflicted on the environment. When the outbreak first occurred and everyone withdrew inside, many studies found that wildlife and plant life began to show notable signs of improvement with reports of increased air quality and decreased pollution.

In addition to current environmental disasters like the recent sinking of the X-Press Pearl container ship, her concern for the future is the further damage sure to occur with the inevitable increase of carbon emissions and pollution once widespread travel resumes. While it would be ideal to envision an improved environment when normalcy returns, she finds that prospect doubtful, underscoring the need for continual action as we move forward.

Visit ECO-V on their website for more information:

Stuck at home? You can still do your bit for the environment
With most people at home these days, Kanchana recommends simple things which can be done to minimize environmental damage. These include naturally purifying the air around you by incorporating more plants at home, replacing chemical detergents with non-harmful alternatives like baking soda, citronella oil and natural vinegar and reusing water used for tasks like cleaning rice by watering your garden with it.Most notable is the novel and unique solution to plastic pollution; creating Ecobricks. Despite doing her best to lead a zero waste lifestyle, single use materials in the form of packaging, labels, wrappers and more are an unavoidable addition to most necessary purchases, says Kanchana. Following a meeting with the creator of the Ecobrick, Russell Maier, she finally found a way to give these items a new purpose.  Ecobrick is a plastic bottle packed tight with used, unrecyclable plastic to create a reusable building block and can be used to produce items, such as furniture, garden walls and other structures. Since then Kanchana has been using and promoting the Ecobrick to institutions around both Sri Lanka and India.


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