The MJF Centre for Dignified and Sustainable Empowerment model replicated in Sri Lanka’s East
Story of K. Sivaranjini
Parallel to the reawakening taking place in the north; post war, K.Sivaranjini feels a revival within; a revival brought about by the sense of satisfaction she derives from the livelihood activity she started with the MJF Charitable Foundation’s support.
Story of Edward Shanthi
Among the multifaceted projects that the MJF Charitable Foundation has initiated in terms of post war rebuilding in the north, the Small Entrepreneur Programme (SEP) provides livelihood support for those traumatized and battered by the three decade long ethnic conflict. Edward Shanthi; a hardworking and capable individual, when supported by the Foundation became a productive small entrepreneur who could in turn translate her individual success for the benefit of many others.
Story of M. Kamaleswary
For M. Kamaleshwary, a war widow, livelihood support of the MJF Foundation came at a time when she was coping with a personal loss while the wounds of the three decade long ethnic conflict she experienced, first hand, were still fresh upon her mind. Foundation’s livelihood support, to some level, healed her aching wounds, she echoes.
MJF Kids Jaffna
The MJF Kids programme was established in the belief that every child has inherent and outstanding ability, requiring only the means to nurture that ability. The MJF Kids and their parents benefit from art, life skills, supplementary conventional education and a caring environment. The educational and nutritional programmes of the “Anjali Aham” Psychosocial Counselling Centre in Jaffna, North of Sri Lanka commenced in 2011 as a part of the educational and livelihood support. Today, the programme benefits around 250 children- mostly those from poor and marginalised backgrounds, and the war affected- who come to the Centre, on weekday afternoons to receive guidance in their school curriculum. Here they also get exposure to develop their socialm life skills through the leadership development, outreach programmes and other social/cultural activities organised from time to time. Since its commencement, three batches of students have completed their studies up to Ordinary Level while 14 other students receive further assistance in their Advanced Level studies under the educational scholarship scheme of the MJFCF.
The Story of H.A. Premaratne
This is the story of H.A Premaratne who was assisted by the Merrill J. Fernando Charitable Foundation (MJFCF) in 2011 to rebuild his life after he lost his income following an accident. Today, he has been able to turn the small garden compound of his humble home into a fruity and vegetable haven. The prosthesis he wears make his physical injury still plain to see; yet the smile that adorns his face indicates that he has been able to rise above the hardships he faced in the aftermath of his tragedy. Premaratne, along with 400 other such differently-abled will gather at the annual AIDEX sports day to be held tomorrow at the Prison’s Ground Welikada, Colombo 8.
The Story of Mithun Madushan
As a kid who was growing up in the care of old grandparents, the biggest problem faced by Madushan Mithun was lack of proper direction and guidance in terms of education and career. Mithun spent much of his time idling with the children in his neighbourhood without any focus on education or on his future. Joining the MJF Kids programme in 2010 was a turning point in his life as he was inspired to work with an ambition by the teachers. Today, this young man is attached to the Engineering Department at Dilmah as a machine operator upon completion of his Ordinary Level examination with the assistance provided by MJF Kids programme.
MJF Kids Programme - Story of Devak Prasanna
Over the past decade, MJF Kids Programme has nurtured and empowered many children like Devak Prasanna by giving them educational opportunities and skills training required to progress in life.
Story of Nurul Fatima
As the ‘First Decade of MJF Kids’ celebrated the inspirational journey of the MJF Kids Programme, Nurul Fatima recalls the lessons that transformed her life.
Moments from AIDEX 2016
Over 300 extraordinarily abled individuals; talented, brave, resilient and committed, on a common platform. Participating in track and field events with much gusto to prove their prowess and celebrate their diversity. Here are some of those inspirational moments from AIDEX 2016.
The Story of Indunil
Listen to Indunil Aruna as he looks back on his journey with the MJF Kids Programme.
We are different but we are able – Story of Nipuna
For both Nipuna Fernando (aged 21) and Gayeshan Lakshitha (aged 24) doing their ‘shift’ at the MJF Centre’s Swashakthi bakery would be the highlight of the day.
Brimming with excitement, they put on their neatly pressed black aprons; tell everyone around them, with a sense of pride, that they will soon be “going for their shift” at the bakery.
Nipuna and Gayeshan – participants of MJFCF’s Rainbow Centre initiative, a programme that provides holistic development for children with special needs- have recently been recruited at the MJF Centre’s Swashakthi bakery which was set up with the primary objective to provide sustainable and dignified empowerment, especially for the mothers of MJF Kids, and participants of various other programmes. Nipuna and Gayeshan being put in charge of a half day shift at the bakery marks a milestone development for MJF Centre in Moratuwa as the enthusiasm with which these two kids engage in the tasks allotted to them is indicative of their desire to be integrated in to mainstream society as productive individuals.
Gayeshan, despite his Cerebral Palsy condition, is extremely hardworking although his physical impairment restricts him to a certain degree. He executes the daily tasks at the bakery with much vigour. He greets those who walk into the bakery with a beautiful smile; runs to them with the ketch up bottle or the order they placed. Gayeshan is unable to get into a long conversation with the customers he serves, but shows his affectionate nature often with a smile. His colleague Nipuna who is more articulated despite being a Downs Syndrome child, says he finds the work at the bakery extremely fascinating. Explaining his daily routine Nipuna says, “I wake up around 7 am. every day and soon after I finish my morning exercises, I start getting ready because I have to come to the bakery to do the morning shift. Around 8.30, I come here. Then I go to the kitchen to make buns, patties and submarines. I also do various other activities at the classes here until my morning shift starts. My job is to serve the customers who come to the bakery. I am so happy I have a job and I earn money now. When I leave home every morning, my neighbours know that I am going for a job. It makes me happy when they ask me what I do. I must thank Dilhan Sir for giving me this job. All I want is to wear a tie and go to work someday,” says Nipuna who has even promised to give his friends at the MJF Centre his first salary treat. Both Gayeshan and Nipuna epitomize what differently abled can achieve when they are given the much needed opportunity and space; and that is the difference your cup of Dilmah tries to make.
The Asirimath Iskole, of ‘School of Inspiration’, is a newly renovated pre-school for the children of the Koul Ara area. A gift to the present and future generations of Koul Ara by the MJF Charitable Foundation, so that they may face life with strength and dignity.
Story of Chamila! - World Down Syndrome day
The MJF Centre in Ambalantota helps over 35 kids who are differently abled to learn skills such as sewing, arts and handicrafts, music and most importantly life skills. The center works towards nurturing in Chamila and her peers the ability to face life with dignity. Watch her story here.
Story of Sachitha! - World Down Syndrome day
Sachitha is a student at the MJF Centre in Moratuwa who has a great love for music and a passion for cricket. The MJF Kids programme works towards nurturing children who are differently abled like Sacitha to face life with dignity. This is the story of Sachitha, a child who is different but very able.
Small Entrepreneurs Program
Thushara Madushanka From Siyambalanduwa In The Moneragala District Of Sri Lanka Is A Former Soldier Of The Sri Lanka Army. After Losing Both His Legs In A Mortar Attack, During The Conflict That Prevailed, His Dreams Of A Better Life Were Shattered. All This Changed Once The Sri Lanka Army Gave Him Prosthetic Legs And The MJF Charitable Foundation Provided Assistance To Thushara Which Enabled Him To Drive A Three Wheeler.
Providing Plantation Communities With Better Health Care, Housing, Sanitation Facilities, Care And Nutrition For Their Children Is Dilmah's Way Of Taking Care Of Its Workers.
Dilmah Gives Kids From Marginalised Backgrounds A Second Chance At A Better Life At The MJF Centres In Moratuwa, Peliyagoda And Dematagoda.
Making A Difference In The Lives Of A Group Of Marginalised Community Members In Udawalawe Through The Mankada Pottery Centre.
The Differently- Abled
Working With The Differently Abled To Improve Their Living Standards Through The MJF Charitable Foundation.
Against All Odds
Dr. Balakrishnan Sathyaraj from Dilmah's Somerset Estate and Dr. Kuppusami Kanageswari from Dilmah's Dunsinane Estate were the children of tea pickers and plantation workers. Their determination and courage to better their lives and those around them were rewarded by the scholarship programme of the MJF Charitable Foundation (MJFCF). The MJFCF supported their Advanced Level and University education, and provided much needed financial assistance during their time as medical students. Today Sathyaraj and Kanageswari are qualified MBBS professionals and one of the very first doctors from the plantation community.
Changing Lives - Anura Dissanayake
When officials from the MJF Charitable Foundation met Anura Dissanayake, he was struggling to develop a rural lathe workshop in Siyambalanduwa. His operation was based on manufacturing basic farm equipment to the agrarian community of the neighbouring locality. Although there was a constant demand for such tools, Anura did not have enough resources or the necessary support to expand his operation.
The MJF Charitable Foundation (MJFCF) helped Anura realize this dream by providing him with a welding plant, drill and compressor. Through the Small Entrepreneur Programme of the MJFCF he was able to establish his business as a thriving enterprise while helping many others in his neighbourhood obtain employment opportunities. Today, eight fulltime employees and 12 individuals working on part time basis are able to benefit through a steady income. Anura too has become a successful manufacturer of farming equipment and a figurehead of his own community.
Changing Lives - D. M. Sunil Bandara
For many years D.M. Sunil Bandara ran a small carpentry operation in Siyambalanduwa. His hired woodworking machine was only able to produce very basic furniture and did not suffice in making contemporary products. As a result, Sunil was constantly struggling to maintain a consistent source of income.
His determination to expand the workshop and purchase his own machinery let the MJFCF to nominate him as an SEP (Small Entrepreneur Programme) recipient. Through the initiative, Sunil received a multi-purpose woodworking machine that helped him develop his operations and create new designs in furniture and woodworks.
Today, young Sunil is a prominent furniture manufacturer in the area and has employed seven individuals and supports them in empowering their own lives.
Changing Lives - Leela
A housewife and mother in rural Monaragala, Leela struggled to make ends meet. Because she didn’t have the expertise or funds to embark on a business venture of her own, Leela felt disheartened and discouraged. However, having seen her plight and determination to care for her family, the MJF Charitable Foundation (MJFCF) stepped in to help Leela.
As a beneficiary of the MJFCF’s Small Entrepreneur Programme, Leela received a grinding machine and was supported through a loan scheme and soon setup a small workshop at home. She began selling ground whole wheat flour at the local market which quickly grew into a successful enterprise.
With the income generated through her work, Leela built a part of her home and continued to educate her children. She is a true example to other women of her community and her story is one of hope and inspiration.
Changing Lives - Nihal Subasinghe
Nihal Subasinghe, an agriculture graduate from Monaragala, dreams of one day owning a modern, fully-equipped farm. With only a small plot of papaya to generate income, Nihal began a home based agricultural project in rural Monaragala 10 years ago. Soon, he began to realize that resources were scarce and costly, and his operations began faltering.
It was during this time that the MJF Charitable Foundation, recognizing his hard work and determination, came to Nihal’s rescue and provided the young farmer with an Organic Composting Machine. This, together with the support from the community and his expertise in agrarian studies helped Nihal expand the venture further.
Today, Nihal is the proud owner of a 25 acre plantation growing papaya and banana. He also operates a dairy farm comprising 25 cows. Utilizing his practical knowledge Nihal has also begun harvesting rainwater and has created a small irrigation system to ensure a constant supply of water, in an otherwise dry region. Nihal plans to develop the growing farm further by purchasing a certified machine to extract milk from the cows in order to avoid wastage.
Nihal’s journey of success has inspired many and continues to set an example to those in his community.
Changing Lives - R. M. Chandralatha
Having started as a simple potter handcrafting oil lamps at home to support her family, R.M. Chandralatha found work time consuming and laborious. However, she was determined to make her business a success and worked hard to accomplish this task.
With time, the young potter became known as an industrious and reliable provider of basic earthenware lamps. Later, she began receiving orders to make pots to store curd and longed to streamline her work and expand production. Sadly, she did not have sufficient funds to purchase machinery or labour.
Chandralatha’s wishes was fulfilled when she became a recipient of the SEP, MJF Charitable Foundation’s Small Entrepreneur Programme. She received her first pottery machine along with a workshop space and kiln and, being a productive and resourceful entrepreneur, quickly established herself.
Today, this potter from Hindikula, Monaragala owns three machines, a lorry and three-wheeler to transport her ware and runs a successful pottery venture with her husband. She also employees 12 workers -mostly relatives from her neighbourhood- and helps them empower themselves and improve their quality of life.
Changing Lives - Lal Rupasinghe
Living in an agricultural village in rural Athimale in Monaragala Lal Rupasinghe had no choice but to become a woodcarver. Due to the scarcity of livelihood options and pressure of trying circumstances he had to continue in his father’s footsteps creating basic woodcrafts using simple tools. Because his resources were limited Lal could only manage a very few pieces at a time.
Even though he was interested in creating intricate pieces and elaborate designs, the lack of specialised tools and equipment limited Lal’s scope. It was during this time that the MJF Charitable Foundation, recognizing his talent and potential, intervened and provided Lal with a multi-purpose woodworking machine.
Lal was elated and continued to work hard to create sought-after original woodcarvings and trained a number of youth in the area in woodcraft. He has even employed five youngsters from within the community in order to offer them a stable source of income. Today, Lal has become a role model to the youth of Athimale.
Seeing the ability
22 March 2014, Moratuwa, Sri Lanka – World Down Syndrome Day is celebrated on 21 March each year to recognize and celebrate the vital role played by individuals with Down Syndrome in our lives and communities. This year marked the 9th anniversary of World Down Syndrome Day focussing on ‘Health and Wellbeing – Access and Equality for All’. The theme stressed on the right to access healthcare without discrimination and with proper assessment of the specific health needs by all individuals including those diagnosed with Down Syndrome.
In celebration of this special day, the Rainbow Centre of the MJF Charitable Foundation also hosted a unique and colourful event on 22 March 2014 at the MJF Centre, Moratuwa. The event, aimed at commemorating the lives of those with different abilities saw guests and volunteers joining together to raise awareness amongst the public about the abilities of individuals with special needs. MJF Kids, their parents, teachers and invitees joined the Founder of the MJF Charitable Foundation, Merrill J. Fernando, and the extended Dilmah family to celebrate children and adults with special needs. The event affirmed the unique abilities of these individuals who are capable of living productive, happy and fulfilling lives, when given the chance.
It was a vibrant and exiting day for all children and adults attending the Cerebral Palsy and Rainbow Centres at Moratuwa. The entertaining line-up of events was a thrilling experience that saw many MJF Kids showcase their talent and creativity. Dance performances by children currently receiving aesthetic and educational support through the MJF Charitable Foundation, a fashion show presented by children with special needs, interactive mural painting and finger painting, and an entertaining talent show were all part of the World Down Syndrome Day activities at the MJF Centre in Moratuwa. Children and invitees alike had lots of fun, with the evening coming to an end with lively music and dancing enjoyed by our special children.
The MJF Charitable Foundation was set up to fulfil the Dilmah Founders wish to make business a matter of human service and share with the community the fruits of his success. The MJF Kids programme was initially set up as part of the efforts to improve the living standards and overall wellbeing of children from marginalised communities. What started in 2006 has now spread to MJF Centres across the country in Point Pedro, Siyambalanduwa, Pallansena, Maligawatte, Peliyagoda and Moratuwa. In 2011, the MJF Kids programme was further developed to include children with special needs, who often lack support and care through the available welfare systems in the country.
The MJF Centre in Moratuwa provides educational support for disadvantaged children and care for differently-abled individuals through a comprehensive programme of entertainment, care and attention. The Rainbow unit located within this centre specially caters to the needs of young adults with Down Syndrome so that they can live independent and productive lives well into adulthood despite their different physical and intellectual abilities.
Additionally, the MJF Charitable Foundation manages and supports Sithijaya, a centre that provides care, training and upliftment for special needs children in Ambalantota, in the South of Sri Lanka.
The Impoverished Pahalalanda Community's Efforts Bear Fruit
The first crop of pineapples from the Orange and Pineapple project in Pahalalanda Ampara was handed over to Settlor of the MJF Charitable Foundation, Merrill J. Fernando in June this year. The fruits were handed over by Samantha, the President of the Gemi Aruna community organisation and SEP recipient of the Foundation.
Every child is special...
A special person visited the Rainbow Centre at the Moratuwa MJF Centre recently with his parents to speak and encourage the parents of children attending the Rainbow Centre. This is the story of Stefan Deen and what his visit meant to our Rainbow Kids.
MJF Centre Moratuwa - Curtiss Centre Graduation - 2013
The graduation ceremony of students who completed the Graphic Design course and MS Office Course at the Curtiss Centre for Design at the MJF Centre Moratuwa was held on January 19, 2013. A 'special' fashion show by MJF Kids was a highlight of the evening.
'Celebrating Differences 2013' supported by the MJF Charitable Foundation
The MJF Rainbow Centre Moratuwa held its annual concert on 1 December 2013, bringing together all children from the MJF Charitable Foundation for an evening of artistic and creative expression. This year's stage featured touching performances from both underprivileged and differently-abled children from the Moratuwa Centre, MJF Centre Peliyagoda and the Rainbow Centre in Moratuwa whose talent and flair were applauded and praised by an encouraging audience. The concert was aimed at looking beyond social, cultural, economic and religious differences while celebrating the individuality of every child. These children showed us that we are all different, That our differences - whether Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy or any other -- can be celebrated, Through understanding, and focusing on what we can do, and not what we cannot.
MJFCF Challenge Trophy 2013 - cricket with a difference
The 6th annual Merrill J. Fernando Challenge Trophy for Excellence in Blind Cricket concluded at the Wesley College Grounds recently. The winners, Monaragala Subhagya Vidyalaya -- School for the Hearing & Visual Impaired beat the CEI Sport Club, Piliyandala team in an impressive display of sportsmanship while the Ratmalana School for the Visually Impaired 'A' team and the team from the Sri Lanka Council for the Visually Handicapped were placed 3rd and 4th respectively.
The 18th Annual Aid to the Ex-abled (AIDEX) Sports Festival
The conflict which lasted for nearly three decades saw many people losing their limbs to land mines. The AIDEX (Aid to the Ex-Abled) Annual Sports Festival, now in its 18th year, has been sponsored by Dilmah, from its inception, to help such individuals realise their potential and to encourage them to live non-dependent lives with dignity. This event brings together over 350 participants from across the island and give them the opportunity to overcome their disabilities and regain confidence in their own resourcefulness.
In addition to the sponsorship, Dilmah also makes special grants to select individuals so as to empower them to become more productive citizens of the community.
AuSLMAT works with MJF Foundation on plantation healthcare programme
A team of doctors and other medical staff from AuSLMAT (Australia Sri Lanka Medical Assistance Team) were in Sri Lanka recently to carry out a series of medical camps across the country. They spent their Christmas holidays attending to the welfare of a large group of poor and the underprivileged people in remote corners of the island. In Dilmah’s Kataboola Estate in Nawalapitiya, part of the Kahawatte Plantation, the team headed by consultant pediatrician Dr. Sian Hughes, screened and treated over one thousand patients for various ailments from 4th to 6th January 2013.
Held for the second consecutive year in the plantations, the programme covered a range of activities, including a diabetes awareness and education programme, random blood sugar testing and treatment, eye care and oral hygiene programme for adults and children alike. A dedicated pediatrics clinic for treating children from the plantations was one of the highlights of this programme. Additionally, echocardiogram testing was carried out for selected patients with a history of heart ailments and during the eye clinic, nearly one hundred individuals, including children, received eyeglasses. Overall, estate workers and their families in seven plantations of the Kahawatte Plantation Group benefitted from the medical camp.
The AuSLMAT is made up of Australian citizens including Sri Lankans who are domiciled in Australia. The programme was initially set up in the aftermath of the December 2004 tsunami to treat patients in tsunami affected areas. The programme evolved thereafter to include other areas in Sri Lanka that are often disadvantaged due their remoteness and lack of infra-structure. The AuSLMAT team has been working with the MJF Charitable Foundation since 2011 to provide not just medical assistance but also much needed health education for disadvantaged and underprivileged communities in the plantations.
The team comprised of two pediatricians, a dentist, an optometrist, two general physicians, echo cardiologist and several medical interns from Australia. We thank Dr Hughes and her team for their dedication.
‘Country Roads’ wows the MJF Kids
The MJF Kids were treated to a special 'Country Roads' performance last evening at the Moratuwa MJF Centre. The evening was celebrated with the music of Texas Cowboy Bob Livingston, singer and songwriter Astrid Booke from Britain and Dirk the Maverick and his band from Germany. The performances included classics by John Denver, Johnny Cash, Carol King and Tracy Chapman. Over 200 MJF Kids from the MJF Centres in Peliyagaoda, Dematagoda and Moratuwa as well as children from the Cerebral Palsy and Rainbow Centres joined the Founder of the MJF Charitable Foundation Merrill J. Fernando, his family, Dilmah staff and a host invitees who couldn’t resist a bit of toe tapping.
Country Roads was initiated 25 years ago by the Business Editor of the Sunday Times Feizal Samath and a group of music lovers who wanted to raise funds to support underprivileged children in the country. Over the next 25 years, artistes as Bob Livingston would keep returning to Sri Lanka every time the concert was held, the last Country Roads concert being held in 2010.
Feizal explained that he conceived the idea to have a special Country Roads performance for MJF Kids after he saw the MJF Kids perform during the Celebrating Differences concert held last December at the Moratuwa Centre. I was touched by their performance and I thought it would be great to actually bring a group of performers to encourage these kids and show them how stars perform. The Celebrating Differences concert is held at the end of each year to celebrate the spirit of Christmas and to recap the wonderful year gone by. This year, the show was made even more special by the inclusion of performances by ‘special’ MJF Kids from the Rainbow Centre and the Cerebral Palsy Centre.
The musicians gave special emphasis to the MJF Kids present and sang children’s songs as Old McDonald, Hole in the bottom of the sea and You are my sunshine, with the kids joining in. The evening also included a cameo performance by veteran Country Roads participant Thilan Wijesinghe and Faizal who sang two Sri Lankan ‘baila’ numbers. The evening ended with a joint performance with everyone singing ‘Country Roads take me home’ in true country style.
MJF Kids celebrate their differences on World Down Syndrome Day
MJF Kids and their parents joined the Settlor of the MJF Charitable Foundation Merrill J. Fernando and the extended Dilmah family to celebrate their differences on World Down Syndrome Day at the MJF Centre Moratuwa on 16th March 2013. The event was an extra special day for kids attending the Cerebral Palsy and Rainbow Centres, also located at the MJF Centre Moratuwa. For some kids, the carnival like atmosphere was a first time experience. The MJF Kids were joined by other special children from the neighbourhood who were welcomed into the Dilmah family by everyone present. The idea behind organising a day to celebrate these special children stemmed from the success of the Celebrating Differences Christmas extravagansa held last December. The day showcased that people with special needs are capable of living normal lives and being happy, just like us, when given a chance. This was the reason why Merrill J. Fernando’s MJF Charitable Foundation organised this event where children with special needs could mingle and enjoy the life often taken for granted by other children.
The MJF Kids programme was initially set up as part of the efforts to improve the living standards and overall wellbeing of children from mariginalised communities living in and around Dilmah factories in the Colombo District. What started in 2006 has now spread to MJF Centres across the country in Siyambalanduwa, Monaragala, Pallansena, Point Pedro, Peliyagoda, Maligawatta and Moratuwa. The MJF Kids programme initially commenced with mainstream children who were given educational support, development and nurturing of their aesthetic abilities, character building and an overall approach to support them overcome the poverty and depravity of their surroundings. In 2011, the MJF Kids programme was further developed to include children with special needs, who often lack support and care through the available welfare systems in the country.