Dilmah Founder Merrill J. Fernando was joined by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his sons Dilhan and Malik in inaugurating the 23 acre centre for empowerment, inspiration, community development and climate change in Kalkudah.
The facility has the objective of uplifting communities and enhancing livelihoods in one of the least developed parts of Sri Lanka. It is ecologically friendly in its design and has humanitarian, educational and environmental functions including an Empower Culinary School, echoing the free services of the Merrill J. Fernando Charitable Foundation’s Centre in Moratuwa.
The opening ceremony was a colourful presentation of the MJF Foundation’s activities in eastern Sri Lanka, including a review of past involvement since 2006, current projects as well as plans for the future in the new complex. There were performances from the ‘coastal veddahs’ native to the area, children from the surrounding community and differently able children who received wheelchairs specially adapted to their size and growth.
“The MJF Centre East is the evolution of 12 years of human service in the Eastern Province. The MJF Foundation and Dilmah Conservation work together in serving communities around Sri Lanka since healthcare, support for differently able children and their families, education – vocational and environmental, entrepreneurship development, climate change adaptation, sustainable agriculture, sport and counselling are all dimensions of human welfare that need to be addressed holistically as we share the success that Dilmah has been blessed with,” said Fernando, settlor of the MJF Charitable Foundation and Dilmah Conservation.
The MJF Centre East will work with communities in the area to help in sharing knowledge and skills that will help the beneficiaries align with opportunities. It also aims to promote integration, learning, innovation and is inclusive. The main facilities comprise classrooms which will be adapted to meet the needs of ongoing daily programmes for children including those with disabilities, women, youth and entrepreneurs seeking support with marketing and value chain linkages.
A vocational training centre hosts a dedicated IT facility which will provide free training to economically marginalised beneficiaries in a series of courses from the most basic to advanced computer skills. A key institution within the site is the MJF Foundation’s Empower Culinary and Hospitality School. Mirroring a similar facility in the MJF Centre West in Moratuwa, the culinary school offers free support to aspiring chefs and hospitality professionals via a boot camp culinary course developed by and currently conducted at MJF Centre West. Beneficiaries are assessed and accepted based on their social and economic circumstances and placed in industrial apprenticeship after their training at the centre.
With the dramatic impact of climate change in the east, Dilmah Conservation will work with farmers and community-based organisations to increase their resilience and help them adapt to climate change. Demonstration plots of climate resilient and sustainable agricultural methods such as biochar, climate smart technology including irrigation and native drought resistant crops will form the bedrock of the program.
The Dilmah Conservation team also seeks to support to the dairy industry of the district with new technology, natural enhancers to milk production and support for value addition. This builds on an existing project ‘Greening Batticaloa,’ which was launched in 2011 and plans to plant one million cashew trees by 2020. With 750,000 trees already planted, the project is intended to enhance the green cover over Batticaloa whilst enhancing the income of recipients of the trees given the high value addition that is possible with Sri Lankan cashew.
Dilmah CEO Dilhan C. Fernando commented: “Dilmah is formed around the passionate commitment to Taste, Goodness and Purpose. The MJF Centre East is part of the fulfilment of that Purpose, which forms the heart of Dilmah Tea, and with it my father’s lifelong commitment to making our business a matter of human service. Our emphasis is on delivering positive and tangible outcomes and we are partnering therefore with communities, government, academia, INGOs and the private sector to ensure that we secure change for the better in the east of Sri Lanka.”
The Centre is based on a 23 acre site and is constructed at a cost of Rs. 1.2 b. More than 85% of the labour used for its construction was local and based with 25km of Kalkudah. The humanitarian and environmental programmes of the Foundation will begin in September and progressively come on stream over a period of six months.