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How We Started

RECDO’s Story

“When he started the Rural Economic Community and Development Organization (RECDO) in 1999, with nine other friends, Azhar, 36, knew nothing about running an NGO – how to find funds, budget or manage a project. He did the only thing he found others doing. He collected money from local businessmen and did small projects on an ad-hoc basis such as distributing prizes to good students or building a small house for a homeless person. RECDO did not have paid staff, a computer or even an office. But it had ideals and dreams.” Mustafa Sahabdeen, Principal of the Perathuveli Muslim Maha Vidiyalaya, Sri Lanka

In December 1999, a young man in Sri Lanka’s war-torn Eastern Province watched foreigners and Sri Lankans alike, from the capital of Colombo working hard to improve the lives of the people in his hometown Kantale in theTrincomalee District and thought, “what is my contribution?” It was then that Abdul Mohamad Azhar and nine of his friends got together and decided it was time to collectively make a difference, perhaps in the smallest of ways in helping people they had known all their lives, people who in particular, had suffered through decades of armed conflict and natural disasters.

They first started their work with a mixed community of Muslims, Tamils, Sinhalese and other hybrid ethnicities who had been living through years of serial displacement. RECDO began their work modestly, first with arranging the logistics for a children’s blindness programme that Muslim Aid International had just started. It was this initiative that set the basis of continuing partnerships with both local and international organizations including the Asia Foundation, the Mahatma Gandhi Center, the Environmental Foundation, the United Nations International Labour Organization and the Swarajya Foundation. Gradually, RECDO began building itself into a strong grassroots network, acquiring an office space, and adopting a good governance system sustained by sound monitoring and evaluation processes. Over time, its volunteers and a small group of staff learned how to write proposals and to fundraise.

The turning point for RECDO, together with their partners such as Muslim Aid came during the Muttur crisis of August 2006 when approximately 50,000 refugees flooded into Kantale to escape the fierce fighting between government forces and the LTTE. The crisis put RECDO’s commitment, mettle and efficiency to test. A few months back, Muslim Aid and RECDO as a part of their emergency preparedness training had done a mapping exercise using an imaginary scenario within the context of political displacement. Through this exercise, RECDO was able to get an idea of where latent resources within Kantale could be tapped and mobilized if such an incident was to occur.

Tragically, the simulation became reality. By enabling community mobilization networks, communities from Muttur were met, housed and fed by local residents and organizations in Kantale that worked in a concerted manner. Food and water distribution mechanisms were put in place, and transport facilities were made available to attend to issues such as safety and healthcare.

When the fighting gradually subsided, the Muttur families returned home, Muslim Aid wound down its operations, and RECDO began to take over the role as local NGO coordinator in Kantale by partnering with a number of other humanitarian organizations and stakeholders to provide link assistance.

Today RECDO remains a community-based organization with over 2,000 dedicated volunteers and 11 staff, with its Headquarters in Peraru, Kantale and a field office not too far away. RECDO partners over 40 organizations, from state agencies and donors, to INGOs and CBOs, with its singular conviction of serving local community needs. Since it’s inception, it has run a gamut of initiatives that have been visioned and successively steered by local communities themselves. Subsequently many of the older projects were completed to allow for newer initiatives.

In sum, two interlocking strategies drive RECDO’s work : sustaining community resilience and internal innovation. Once a community initiative has been deemed successful by its own beneficiaries who are able to stand on their own feet, the organization moves ahead to identity other service gaps that may not have been attended to. Thus RECDO works at constantly re-inventing itself by adjusting to changing community needs and trends that it sees and studies, thus creating a strong evidence base for its work. Presently, RECDO lends much of its effort in areas such as pre and post-school formal education, vocational skills training, language rights education, creating opportunities for small-group entrepreneurial ventures and capacity building for other up-and-coming CBOs that too are making a difference in northeastern Sri Lanka.

“Always remember that the future comes one day at a time.” Dean Acheson

RECDO's Structure

RECDO comprises 8 inter-related departments or working clusters. Many of the issues we work on crosscut many of these clusters, hence inter-team collaboration within the organization is essential.