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Setting our sights on Sri Lanka

Image: Tharaka Munidasa, front centre, and GFF India Saom Namchu, back centre, pictured here with children from the rural community who are involved with a SANASA Campus programme.

An introduction to Tharaka

Hi there my name is Tharaka! I am a recent graduate from the University of Auckland having completed a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering with First Class Honours. I was born in Sri Lanka but moved to New Zealand when I was 6 months old. Growing up with two different cultures, I was determined to fuel my curiosity to develop my global mindset. I gained secondary schooling experience in Hiroshima, Japan through my Asia Student Exchange Scholarship, a semester abroad at Pennsylvania State University, USA through the 360° Auckland Abroad Exchange Travel Award and finally, professional experience where I completed an internship abroad in Shenzhen, China through the Prime Minister’s Scholarship for Asia.

Having reflected on the wonderful opportunities I have had abroad, I set a goal to give back to communities in Sri Lanka before engaging in my career. I connected with the Glenn Family Foundation (GFF) through the University of Auckland Business School, where I proposed the idea to expand GFF’s global reach by coming to Sri Lanka to facilitate a partnership with a local NGO and establishing a new location for the HELPS programme. I believe I can make a greater impact on my hometown if I can create the opportunity for volunteers to get involved for years to come! My current volunteer involvement involves teaching English communication skills to first-year students at SANASA Campus and looking to transfer these skills towards children in the village. Furthermore, I am consulting on an IT Development Programme to build IT skills for students and the community.

Building partnerships: SANASA local campus in Kegalle

The resurgence of the 1978 gave rise to “The SANASA Movement” with its village level societies affiliated to a district union which handles all matters of the societies in the district. Nearly 3 million of Sri Lanka’s rural communities are associated with the SANASA movement. It is an organisation which follows a cooperative philosophy among its membership and to the community. One of the main goals is to uplift communities in a way that encourages local empowerment and local ownership

SANASA Campus is a non-profit co-operative sector university. The Campus serves the people through degree/diploma/certificate courses. Following the participatory and community development principles and practices of the SANASA Movement, the Campus is being developed as a community-based university.

The SANASA groups in each rural community have already established and surveyed to get an all-inclusive understanding of the specific needs of each community.

What are the needs?

Some of the broader needs identified in these communities are economic empowerment, health services and education programmes. Specifically, there is a need to develop more income generation opportunities in local villages to retain skilled youth who opt to leave the community in search of better opportunities, causing a skill drain in the area. There are also not many educational opportunities, particularly for learning English, IT and business.

How can GFF HELP in 2019?

With the help of Tharaka, GFF was able to visit Kegalle earlier this month. GFF India manager, Saom Namchu travelled from his home town in Kalimpong India to meet Tharaka and the SANASA team in Kegalle for a five-day exploration of the rural villages and the work of SANASA. The extensive discussions were fruitful and together we identified some good introductory projects:

  • Teaching English to campus students to transfer their skills onto the village community and assisting the Centre for Cooperatives and Community Studies (CCCS) to educate the wider community
  • An IT skills development programme for campus students and the local community, small enterprises and business entrepreneurs
  • Business skills training
  • Promotion of Eco-tourism projects

We look forward to developing these plans soon and hopefully sending or locally recruiting our first GFF Representative Sri Lanka in the coming months. We thank SANASA for their openness and willingness to work together for the common good of those in need.

Sarah McLaughlinSetting our sights on Sri Lanka