A.T. Ariyaratne is the leader and spiritual guide of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement, which he founded in 1958. Sarvodaya is the largest established non-governmental organization in Sri Lanka, serving over 20,000 villages. Sarvodaya was founded during a time of great civil unrest and much violence with the goal of bringing people from all ethnic and religious groups together to build villages to live peacefully and safely. The civil war which endured until 2002 with a ceasefire agreement, was renewed again in 2005 by hostilities between the mostly Buddhist government and the (mostly Hindu) Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). By 2009 the government took control of all LTTE areas amidst accusations of human rights violations on both sides. Despite these differences, Sarvodaya has led humanitarian efforts to support displaced Tamil and Sinhalese communities, throughout and following the violence. Additionally, during the 2004 Tsunami, which killed over 35,000 people and displaced over 500,000, Sarvodaya was on the ground providing food, shelter, and village development for all displaced ethnic and religious groups. Recently, the Schwab Foundation and the World Economic Forum recognized Sarvodaya as one of thirty-seven Social Entrepreneurs for the Year 2014.
Ariyaratne's education, awards, commendations, and various peace prizes are too many to name, yet most are notable. His education includes a Doctor of Humanities (D.H.) degree, Emilo Aquinaldo College, Philippines; Doctor of Letters (D.Litt), Sri Jayawardenapura University, Sri Lanka; and Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree in Economics, Sinhala and Education, Vidyodaya University, Sri Lanka. In addition to a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, Ariyaratne was recognized in 2007 as Srilankabhimanya (pride of Sri Lanka), Sri Lanka's highest civilian honor. He has also won numerous international awards, including the 2006 Sushil Kumar International Peace Award, Canada; the 2006 Mahatma Gandhi Service Award, South Africa; 1996 Mahatma Gandhi Peace prize, India; 1996 Hubert Humphrey Award, USA; and the 1992 Niwano Peace Prize, Japan, to name just a few.
Sarvodaya is grounded in Buddhist principles including respect for the dignity and worth of all people, loving kindness, compassionate action, non-violence, and sharing of labor and financial means for the benefit of all peoples. This philosophy is evident in all levels of the organization from the villages to the district centers and beyond.
Ariyaratne believes that all people can attain enlightenment, and it is possible to eradicate many of the social and political leadership challenges of our time. He travels widely to share his message of loving-kindness and compassion toward others. In the spirit of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, he has led hundreds of peace marches and meditations with millions of people.
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