S05E12: Debbie Edirisinghe, Founding Director, Child Action Lanka, Sri Lanka

These children have spent their life being on the streets, having lived on the streets, and being destined to be on the streets. Their lives are completely transformed [through Child Action Lanka] and now living life completely differently, being able to contribute to society, being responsible citizens in the country, and giving back to society is huge and I see so much joy in it. 

debbie edirisinghe

Today’s episode is with a founding director of a non-profit from Sri Lanka, Debbie Edirisinghe. 

Debbie is the Founding Director of Child Action Lanka, a non-profit organization with a team of 110 volunteers across Sri Lanka. 

debbie edirisinghe child action lanka sri lanka
Debbie says, “It doesn’t take a lot to offer kindness.”

Her organization, Child Action Lanka offers education, protection and nutrition to ensure vulnerable children have a chance at a better future. They believe they can break poverty when they start by educating the child, especially street children. 

She entered the non-profit world without any experience but she says that her business experience has been a tremendous help and point of reference. 

Child Action Lanka began in the city of Kandy, Sri Lanka in 2006. She started it with her husband, Dilshan, when she was asked to take over from a woman teaching 8 street children. (Listen to her story in the episode.)

Some 16 years later, her organization has grown to reach over 1,500 children in 8 districts in Sri Lanka.

I remember having this chat with my older daughter who said that other kids’ moms are there to do homework with them and feed them and all these things. And I said I’m in the process of raising strong women. I want my two daughters to be strong women. And what you can’t do, I will go with you and teach you how but the things that you can do, I want to empower you to do better. And so I’ve heard them quote it a few times now and I think they know they’re being raised as strong women to face society.

Child Action Lanka is a network of children’s shelters based in the city of Kandy offering housing and food, schooling and education resources as well as counselling to ensure lower school dropout rates.

In our conversation today, Debbie spoke about the need to give children a second chance and to transform their lives. In our heartwarming interview, she spoke about the lessons she had learnt over the years in running a non-profit and her leadership style. 

Despite what has happened in Sri Lanka this year, she is even more determined to help the children whose lives are the most affected. She talks about making a difference through her work with women and children through various initiatives but what strikes me most is that she reminds her two daughters, Devini and Devasha, that she is raising them to be strong women. 

Debbie’s work has not gone unnoticed. She is the recipient of awards such as Keerthishri Deshamanya (by The Government of Sri Lanka), Zonta Centennial Award – Sri Lanka, Lifetime Achievement Award (Women World Awards 2019), Female Achievers-Lifetime Achievement Award (Women World Awards – USA 2019), Champion of the Year and Female Entrepreneur of the Year (Women World Awards – USA 2018).

​​I got constantly told, when you’re working in a team, you need to not trust people so much. You need to be a leader. You need to be tough, you don’t need to wear your heart on your sleeve. You need to lead with authority and be really strict and tough about what you want. And I realized that was not my style. I didn’t want to change who I was just because of what I did. And so because of that, for me, I think it’s always been a very relationship-based organization that has grown from two people on staff to now over a hundred people on staff and I still maintain the fact that at Child Action Lanka, we’re a family, we are going to face this together.

As part of her personal growth, Debbie has pursued two Masters degrees: an MBA from the Cardiff Metropolitan University UK and another MBA in Human Resource Management from the Open University of Sri Lanka. Debbie is currently reading for her PhD at the University of Birmingham. 

She is inspired by ​​Mother Theresa and says that she loves reading biographies. As for songs, she admits to being the ultimate romantic and loves “all the cheesy songs you can imagine!”

This year, Debbie was awarded the Points of Light Award 2022 by the HRH Late Queen Elizabeth II. She was honoured for her exceptional voluntary service supporting and caring for disadvantaged children according to the British High Commission. 

Connect with her:  www.childactionlanka.org

If you have enjoyed today’s episode, please rate, review and subscribe to the podcast on your favourite podcast app. Or share this episode with a friend.

Thank you for listening, I appreciate you and I’ll see you next Friday! 

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