ECONOMYNEXT-A Canadian Social Media influencer who raised tens of thousands of dollars for victims of the Easter Sunday attacks is saying she is working with gofundme.com to identify a fresh charity in Sri Lanka to assist those in need after the blasts.
Ishini Weerasinghe, 21, a model and Instagram star, started a gofundme.com page to collect money for the victims of the attacks on the day of the blast and raised CAD82, 882 (Approximately LKR11,520, 600) in a short time.
Weerasinghe, who has an Instagram following of 173,000 people at last count, came under attack on Social Media by some users who called her a fraud saying that none of the money she collected has reached the numerous victims and their families 17-months after the blasts.
The social media hashtag #IshiniGate has been trending on Social Media since then.
Her accusers speculated that she had spent the money on plastic surgery for breast enhancement and a new car.
In a statement released yesterday, Weerasinghe said that that she had had surgery to “correct a deformity” in 2018 and also purchased her vehicle the same year many months before her gofundme.com drive.
Among the accusations was that she had paid for a new house, a charge she denies as she lives with her parents in the house which they had built and have lived in for the past 11 years in South Edmonton, in Alberta.
In an interview with EconomyNext, Weerasinghe who is of Sri Lankan origin says she does not want to be “directly involved in the charity work but we are looking for someone competent to do so.”
Gofundme.com in a letter to Weerasinghe commiserated with her about the attacks on Social Media and gave her two options saying they could return the money to the donors but recommended that she work with the website to find a suitable charity in Sri Lanka to work with.
Of the total cash collected Weerasinghe chose to transfer a sum of CAD 20,000 in June 2019 to the Alpha Trust in Sri Lanka which organizes and conducts social work and projects around the country.
The remaining cash, amounting to CAD68, 882 she told EconomyNext, “is in a separate bank account in Canada.”
Alpha Trust is the charity arm of the Foursquare Gospel Church, at which her parents worship in Edmonton.
However, for various reasons Alpha Trust could not aid victims, Weerasinghe and the Trust said.
Alpha Trust in a statement released on Facebook said: “in order to adhere to the request of Ms Weerasinghe, members of the Alpha Trust team embarked on the mission of communicating with the church in Batticaloa and other people on the ground, to ascertain the needs of those directly affected by the bombing.”
“However, after extensive interviews and fact-finding, they reported back to Ms Weerasinghe that all victims who needed immediate, short term and long-term medical care were categorized and were being taken care of by Government organisations, relevant affected churches, International NGOs and Blue-chip companies who also came to the immediate assistance of the victim,” it said.
Hence, Alpha Trust requested to return the funds to her as per their policy of only utilizing funds strictly for the specific purpose it was sent for by the donor.
Subsequently, in November 2019 Weerasinghe had informed Alpha Trust of a planned visit by her and her family to Sri Lanka for a family wedding and instructed the Alpha Trust to return the funds directly to her as she had directly made contact with some victims who needed urgent medical assistance and would like to work directly with them.
“On arrival, Ms Weerasinghe requested Alpha Trust to return the funds within 36 hours and the Alpha Trust trustees agreed to relax their strict policy method and process of returning the funds and made it available to her at short notice,” the statement said.
So Alpha Trust has refunded an amount of Rs 2,585,091.43 after deducting the taxes and their travelling expenses the statement said.
EconomyNext has verified that Weerasinghe has provided assistance to three recipients in the Negombo area through a local church group. However getting the records of how around LKR1.5mn was spent has “been pushed back by Covid,” she says
“The receipts are there. The survivors know that they were told to keep their medical receipts from the moment we started working with them for documentation purposes. The earliest person we have employed said he can meet with them and gather all the receipts and deliver it to me is by the end of this month,” she said.
EconomyNext spoke to the person who is tracking down the recipients. He spoke on condition of anonymity and said that there are at least three people he has contacted who have received help for medical treatment and another to whom payments have been made for the construction of a house.
He said that one woman has been given LKR50,000 for surgery due to hearing loss, another family which lost their mother was given LKR50,000 for school supplies and money has been set aside for furniture.
Another girl who has a serious skin condition from shards of glass was given LKR100,000 for the course of injections and mother was given money for physiotherapy as she is unable to walk due to injuries.
An orphaned girl has been pledged LKR1,000,000 to finish building her family house.
“We will be continuing to help the victims on our own account and social welfare efforts further onwards. The cyberbullying, harassment and threats from the community recently from creating false accusations about the work that I have done with no proof, has become overwhelming for me and my family,” she said.
With additional reporting by Arjuna Ranawana