Day 9: Dilmah - MJF (Part 2)

The Subhagya School for Differently Abled Children is another Dilmah initiative. The core thinking behind the program is to help differently abled children lead a normal life. There have been long standing stigmas attached to many of those deemed different in many societies, but thankfully today there are those that work to reverse those stigmas. Those that believe we should all be treated as equals, regardless of physical or mental differences.

Our next stop was a very special one indeed. Shantha led us onto the school property. The school, government owned, educated children with impairments. We didn't look into the classroom side of things but instead an offshoot, a knapsack and purse production facility. Obviously many employers are reluctant to hire those with impairments as special considerations need to be addressed. Acknowledging that reality the school had set up the production facility to provide employment to children from the school.

Business is a matter of human service

As I looked at the production floor and the girls that sewed and cut fabrics I was struck by the energy of the room. I'd already come to realize that Sri Lankans are an extremely friendly and positive people. I'd experienced that feeling upon arrival and it had only grown as the days had passed, and here it was again. The girls went about their business with smiles, just like the women gathered around the table at Sumith's yoghurt business had. I also noticed that air of pride again, it was in the confident whisperings between the girls, in the way they worked the sewing machines, and in the way they measured and cut the fabric. They did it with authority, and not as one might 'presume' a person with a handicap might perform it. They liked working there and proved they had just as much right to be there as anyone else.

There was a great sense of teamwork at the school

The strength of our eyes and ears lies in the ability of our hands, so our lives are happy and harmonious.

From the production floor we walked to the showroom at the end of the drive which fronted onto the main road. It was a pristine showroom that boasted a healthy display of colourful bags, all of which had been made on-site. The proceeds from these bags were reinvested in the business in the form of wages and new supplies. I wandered the displays and settled on one bag, a green and black Wilson bag, fancy that, a 'Wilson' bag. Now there was an easy choice so I purchased it as a souvenir for myself to remember my visit not only to Sri Lanka, but to a very special school.

I had to! Sashikala sells me a 'Wilson' bag

We traveled from one school to another. In Sri Lanka education is provided free by the government, but there are also many schools that are appearing as 'after schools,' places where children can enroll to further study the courses needed to provide a solid footing going forward either into the work place or onto post secondary education.

Shantha and Chaminda

This school, the MJF Diriya Education Centre. was owned and run by Mr. Chaminda Sanaranayake, a charismatic teacher that lived with his family on the premises. Dilmah was helping with funding and had also supplied computers for I.T. study. We made our way into a classroom and had a natter with the students. They were a very happy bunch and looking at them I had flash backs to my own time in a classroom. I had to smile to myself as I noticed the same patterns in the classroom as I had experienced in mine. Girls were collected together in pockets while guys were collected in other pockets, most of the girls were at the front of the classroom while the boys were at the back. Some things never change.

Girls on one side...

Boys on the other

(Photo by Evadora Depari)

I also noticed their school supplies were every bit as comprehensive as the ones I had used. They were being given the tools needed to learn in a proficient manner and watching how Chaminda interacted with them I couldn't help feeling impressed. I was also very impressed with the classroom itself. Coming from a country that has seen learning environments become more and more restricted, controlled, and policed for exterior threats, (shootings) I absolutely loved the breeze block wall on one side and the absence of one on the other. There were no windows in the wall as there was no wall to put them in. Instead there was an open view to rice paddies and palm trees. The biggest threat that existed here was of a hungry elephant passing through looking for food. I loved it. Education was the only focus, what an easy, open, accessible way to learn your 'times tables,' and judging by the demeanor of the students...it was working.

Our last stop of the day was one I found of particular interest. I'd like to introduce you to Mr. Anura Dissanayake, a machinist and fabricator.

Mr. Anura Dissanayake

Anura is a very talented fabricator. I could tell that very quickly by looking at his designs and the build quality in the execution of those designs. He made trailers, metal tractor outrigger wheels for use in the rice paddies, plows, and a whole bunch of other stuff. What I loved about his shop was that he did it all. He wasn't the sort to 'farm' stuff out. If something needed building he would design and build it right on-site (with a couple of exceptions). He had the machines to do it and the knowledge to make it happen. In today's day and age that is becoming an increasingly rare talent.

Tractor wheels for the rice paddies

Metal outrigger wheels in action

The plow he had just finished building was a perfect example. Different topographies require different farming methods and machinery. Anura had taken a Japanese plow design and adapted it to fit the requirements of local farmers. He explained how it worked in detail and I had to admire the build quality. Every metal fabrication is only as good as the welds that hold it together, and the welds here were gorgeous. Give credit where credits due, it was a very impressive shop.

A Dilmah supplied welding machine

His own interpretation (based on a Japanese design)

Anura Dissanayake - a very talented man (photo by Evadora Depari)

It had been an incredible day, one that I don't think I'll ever forget, and what better place to ponder my thoughts then at Arugam Bay, a surf hot-spot on the east coast. Dilmah were showing me many sides to Sri Lanka, and surfing was good, but I was more interested in the local flavour, such as fishermen having a town meeting on the beach in front of the hotel. What a place!

Fishing is tradition at Arugam Bay