Seenigama: Rural empowerment and philanthropic success



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Welcome


Welcome to the one hundred and thirtieth (130th ) edition of the regular column "The Catalyst".


Unconditional Compassion


A couple of months back, I attended a dinner function organised by the Ananda College OBA, which happens to be my alma mater, and one of the speeches was made by old Anandian Kushil Gunasekara. I had heard of Kushil for being the Manager of Spin King Murali and also for running a rural BPO operation in Seenigama.


Never did I expect to hear what I did. Kushil has done much more. The organisation that has been built by this man does a lot more.


Scoreboard


‘Seeingama Village in the Wake of a Tsunami Wave’ is the only one of its kind when it comes to rural empowerment and stand as a model of philanthropic success. They have 30 Empowerment Activity Sectors Free of Cost, 50 Villages Supported and 25,000+ Annual Beneficiaries. They have also achieved 10’000 beneficiaries in the North during last two years. I think that’s a strong scoreboard to have.


The Foundation of Goodness is the organisation, started by Kushil to achieve the above. It is based around Seenigama a village in the South West of Sri Lanka. The Foundation of Goodness has been actively empowering rural communities for the last 14 years. Their work is unique to the region since it is of a holistic nature, attending to all the needs of the villagers, including housing, infrastructure, livelihoods, healthcare, education, skills development, sports and cultural preservation.


They are today expanding their services to North as well. It is here that the success from the South is being replicated in order to meet all the various challenges faced by villagers in the North. In 2010, President Mahinda Rajapaksha gifted a 50 acre piece of land to the Foundation of Goodness’ trustee, Muthiah Muralidaran within the Northern town of Mankulam for a Learning and Empowerment Institute.


Small Beginnings


I had the opportunity to meet Kushil over lunch last week. He told me how it all began. He has been into the lucrative business of Sugar importing. He has also been helping Seenigama village for a long time whenever he could. He saw how talented kids in villages miss out on opportunities as they lack English as well as other connections that an urban kid would have.


In 1999, he started Foundation of Goodness. Kushil converted his ancestry home which he inherited into a villa and asked his Colombo friends to come down and stay and donate money if they wish, to be used to help villagers. Some did help, and some didn’t. With that money he created various support programs for Seenigama kids such as IT training. Then as many good things, it multiplied.


Kindness Multiplies, as Kushil puts it.


Kindness Multiplies


Then the Tsunami came. The villa as well as entire Seenigama was almost washed away. As we know, Sri Lankans stood up after Tsunami. They came forward to help others. They came forward to rebuild. Similarly, Foundation of Goodness came out stronger after the wave. The things were rebuilt and today they have an unbelievable story to tell.


Today the MCC Centre of Excellence provides many empowerment sectors which include Healthcare, Business Skills, Women’s Empowerment, Children’s Development, Environmental Management, Infrastructure, English and IT teaching as well as Sports. These sectors provide for 25,000+ villagers per year from up to 50 villages in the region, some as far as 20km away.


It has become an internationally recognised holistic model for poverty alleviation and long-term rural development and was recognised as the best post-tsunami model of all those studies by R.M.I.T University, Australia.


Each sector managed by the Foundation of Goodness has grown over the last year, catering to more people, delivering high quality training programmes and children’s activities in well maintained facilities. The administrative team have developed new skills, particularly in the use of IT and English, and computerised systems have improved the efficiency of the medical and dental clinic. Professional volunteers and academics from around the world have shared their skills and expertise for the improvement of services. Students are active in community aid work, collecting funds as a team and carrying out projects such as environmental improvements, alms giving, and cultural activities.


Hirigal


Kushil also told me that they have taken people who used to live by mining coral stones (hirigal) in and around Seenigama and trained them as professional divers. There are over 200 people trained this way, they have stopped coral mining and today are employed by diving companies. Many have secured jobs overseas as life guards too. I think that’s a great story. It has saved the environment and our lovely beach. People have become empowered by being able to do a productive job. I hope this can be replicated around the coastal areas in Sri Lanka.


BPO


The Foundation of Goodness views the BPO initiative as essential to the life-long success of its humanitarian projects. I spoke of rural BPOs a few weeks back in this column and we saw what benefits it could offer to nations like ours. Not only is the Foundation of Goodness hoping to create sustainability for its Southern project through this, but also transfer its success to the organisation’s new project in the North of the country.


MCC


The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) UK is known as the world’s most famous cricket club. Founded in 1787, MCC owns the famous Lords cricket complex in the UK and is widely regarded as the ‘home of cricket’.


In mid-2005, the Foundation of Goodness (FoG) was honoured to be the first recipient of the MCC tsunami relief grant of GBP 150,000 which paved the way to address the numerous concerns of the villagers.


The relationship grew when MCC Secretary and Chief Executive, Roger Knight, and his wife visited Seenigama. They were extremely impressed with the amount of progress made towards creating a rural community model and looked for ways to offer more support.


In March 2006 MCC agreed to fund the MCC Centre of Excellence - a first-class learning institution for village youth.


It comprises of a medical centre, women’s enterprise division, environment project management office, business skills development centre, modern computer lab, pre-school, handicraft boutique, the Re-building Lives Programme, English training school, MCC gallery, tsunami gallery, administration office and accommodation for volunteers, donors and trainers.


With the support of sustainable funding and affiliated educational professional bodies, the MCC Centre of Excellence aims to help more than 1500 students per year complete a workshop or short course, free of charge. It also provides free medical and dental care support to upwards of 1500 people per month.


Cricket


As Kushil comes from a cricketing background and MCC being a key backer in this project, cricket takes a centre place as well. Of course sports are a good way to bring people together. Seenigama has a ground with good facilities and its cricket training has seen a couple of new stars coming through to national ranks.


25 school teams on an average annually tour the Village from the UK & Australia engaging in community aid cricket and playing against the Foundation of Goodness academy team.


Tsunami orphaned boy Pulina Tharanga represented the Sri-Lanka Under 19 world cup cricket team in Australia and Yashoda Mendis who played for the Seenigama ladies cricket team at the beginning opened the batting at the recently concluded women’s cricket World Cup. Tharindu Kaushal the latest addition to the National Cricket squad as an off spinner has also been sponsored by the Foundation of Goodness. I think they are great results. Actions speak louder than words!


Support


Why I thought I would write about Foundation of Goodness is that I feel not many Sri Lankans know about this immense service. And more than that, we should support initiatives like this in whatever ways we could. This organisation needs more sponsors, that is individuals as well as organisations. Well wishers and corporate CSR divisions may be able to help in various ways.


Kushil told me how school cricket teams travel from London to Seenigama to play against Seenigama team. Sometimes parents of touring players help the foundation with various valuable donations. Right now, they are getting some good brand new computers from such a parent from the UK. By the way, he didn’t forget to mention that our rural talented cricketers almost always win against the touring teams!


He also told me how a Sri Lankan lady came to his office and donated just 100 pens. He explained the processes they have in place to ensure that any such donation goes to the people in need and then how the donor is kept informed of what’s happening with the donations, surpassing donor expectations.


So I hope you would take some time to browse through http://www.unconditionalcompassion.org . You can connect with them through the website if you are interested in joining hands with them to support the needy. I just hope my effort here would multiply the kindness. I am sure it will!


Kushil’s dedicated team including trustees Muthiah Muralidaran, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardena and Chaminda Vaas, former Royal cricket skipper Rohan Iriyagolla and Royal Rugby player Ashan Malalasekera have been pillars of success in this journey.


Hats off to Kushil Gunasekara and the team!


See you next week!


The Columnist


Yasas V. Abeywickrama is an entrepreneur, trainer, writer and speaker. In 2011 he was recognised as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Persons (TOYP) in Sri Lanka. He co-founded Lanka BPO Academy (www.lankabpoacademy.lk). Yasas is an Executive Council Member of the Computer Society of Sri Lanka (CSSL – www.cssl.lk). He is a regular resource person for ‘Ape Gama’ program of FM Derana and ‘100% Youth’ program on TV Derana.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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