Sri Lankan food aid gathering.

Sri Lankan Student Helps Home Country in Crisis

Monday, October 24, 2022

With all the global crises currently in the news, one might be forgiven for missing what has happened to Sri Lanka over the last several months. The country is going through its worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948.

The pandemic nearly wiped out Sri Lanka’s main industry of tourism, and the economy has descended into a deadly tailspin that has caused untold suffering. When Biomedical Sciences PhD student Yash Abeykoon, a Sri Lankan citizen, traveled back to her home country in June, she experienced the economic devastation in person.

“I heard about the economic crisis since the beginning of April this year, but I firsthand experienced how broken Sri Lanka was when I visited my mom in June. More and more people couldn't afford food. The lines for gasoline for vehicles lasted for more than a week at a time. Multiple people passed away in these lines due to heat strokes. So many mothers and fathers were committing suicide because they couldn't feed their children anything but water for days.”

In the midst of so much suffering, Yash visited a Buddhist temple near her home. 

“When I went to the temple near my home, one Buddhist monk asked if I could help a few starving families in the rural village of Walapane, Sri Lanka. I donated what I was able to, but this only sufficed to feed only a couple of families. He asked me if any of my friends or colleagues would be open to the idea of donating so we can help more families.”

The seeds of a plan to help were planted. 

“I realized I'm in the unique position of organizing a fundraiser and spreading awareness of what's going on in Sri Lanka and asking for help from people outside Sri Lanka. I talked to few of my UCSF friends about this idea and they said they will help in any way they can.”

As an international student, Yash had concerns about her ability to raise funds for this cause, but with the assurance of her ISSO advisor that it was not a violation of her visa status, she got to work creating a GoFundMe account and getting the word out via her department’s listserv with the help of Demian Sainz, program administrator for Biomedical Sciences.

“I received overwhelming support from UCSF! I actually got teary eyed when I saw how many people united to help this cause and help feed Sri Lankans going through such an extreme crisis. I had an initial goal of $2500 ($25 can feed a family of 4 for a month) but this fundraiser received such incredible support that we were able buy non-perishable items in bulk to help feed 440 families – I couldn’t be more grateful!”

Although she de-activated the GoFundMe account after exceeding her goals, she has been encouraged by friends and colleagues to re-activate the account so that more Sri Lankans can be helped. 

If you would like to know more about her incredible efforts, or to offer your support, feel free to contact Yash at