Sri Lanka soup kitchens feed the poor hit by economic crisis
With no fuel and no money to buy food, there aren't many places to go for hungry Sri Lankans - except for a local soup kitchen.
Before meal times, a queue of hungry residents snakes around the corner of the building in Colombo where the kitchen is located, eagerly waiting for a free vegetarian meal.
"My children are my future, because of them I am standing here doing all this. If I don't do something for them (if I don't feed them) then they will curse me. My life's aim is to give them a better future. I am here to feed my children," said Indrani, a mother of seven, while standing in a massive queue outside of a soup kitchen at a local church.
The country's worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948 has driven up the price of a kilo (2.2 lbs) of rice from just 90 rupees ($0.25) to 250 rupees ($0.70) in the last few months, Indrani says. An acute fuel shortage has not only forced cars off the road but people are now unable to cook even if they have food supplies, as cooking gas is scarce.
"Hunger is common for everyone. It doesn't matter who you are, if you are hungry, you are in need. So, the community kitchen concept is open for anyone who is hungry to come and eat," said Akila Alles the chief operating officer of the Bethany Christian Life Centre.
Alles' nonprofit has set up soup kitchens, locally referred to as "community kitchens," at 12 of its churches and has been serving some 1,500 people daily since June.
In a makeshift kitchen a short distance from Sri Lanka’s parliament, two dozen volunteers boil rice, dice onions and scrape the flesh from coconuts, cooking over open wood fires.
Donations have come from as far as China and Vietnam, with a Buddhist monk dropping off a large donation of rice at the church. But Alles says the lack of fuel is also having an impact on volunteers. Plenty are willing to help, but they can't get to the community kitchens due to a lack of transportation.
Months of anti-government protests that came to a head earlier this month after thousands stormed government buildings, bringing down former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, have crossed religious and ethnic lines in the diverse country. Catholic nuns and Buddhist monks have been a regular site at protests, and communities have worked together to manage the growing humanitarian need.
"We can't imagine how desperate some people are. They are crying and come here asking for food, saying they are very hungry," said Irani, one of the volunteer cooks, boiling potatoes in a massive pot over firewood.
Alles says they plan to continue with the kitchens until the end of August and will re-assess their plans based on the prevailing situation.