Omniloquence

Global Conversations Beyond Discipline

The Foundation of Goodness – Bridging the Opportunity Gap

Image by Suren Ladd

During a recent field research trip to Sri Lanka (December 2014), I spoke to experts in the field of Disaster Preparedness, Response and Recovery Education, with a view to understand the shape of the sector a decade after the Indian Ocean Tsunami. I remember going to volunteer at the Foundation of Goodness in Seenigama a few weeks after the Tsunami in 2004; the waves had damaged the homes, fishing boats and railway to the southern coastal town of Galle. I had the opportunity to be at the Foundation for the tenth anniversary on the of the Boxing Day tsunami, there were many people gathered partaking in religious ceremonies and other remembrance services. I got the sense of a community buoyant, reflective, supportive and resilient. I spoke to the Head of Project Management of the Foundation of Goodness– Ms Fazana Ibrahim- to find out the nature of the work of the Foundation within the Seenigama community and elsewhere in the country. These are some of the excerpts of that interview.

 

Q: Explain what is the sustainable community model of the Foundation of Goodness?

  • Kushil Gunesekara’s (the founder) dream is to bridge the opportunity gap between the urban and rural communities. Through his continuing work with the Foundation of Goodness, Kushil has been able to prove that this opportunity gap can be bridged. There are many examples through sport, professional and private work that his dream has come to fruition. Fazana went on to cite many examples of where the rural youth has excelled on a national and international level through the Foundation’s sports academy and many vocational and educational programs.
  • For example, Yasodha Mendis (the current opening batsman for the Sri Lankan women’s cricket team) is from the Seenigama village and she is just one example of the success of the Foundation’s Triathelete Lakruwan Wijesiri has had the support of the Foundation. Many under 19 cricketers who have played for Sri Lanka such as Tharindu Kaushal who has played for the Sri Lankan national team is a product of the Seenigama sports academy. There have been many netball players who played for Sri Lanka out of the Seenigama academy. Cricketer Pulina Tharanga is also another product of the sports academy. Hakkini Hasanga Sandumal De Silva, a year 12 student from the community, came first in the IWC/Laureus watch design competition in 2013, the academy has some international art competition winners as well.
  • Fazana explained the Foundations sustainability ethos is driven by its goal to be financially self-sufficient through income generating projects (such as the Seenigama BPO company) and most importantly the fact that all of its projects are designed to allow the recipients to pay it forward within their own communities. For example at the Foundations computer training centre, students are not charged for their courses, however the students are expected to do community service projects for local schools, religious organisations, and other resource centers that require their services. Fazana explained further that some of the community service projects involve students working within homes for the elderly, orphanages and other community facilities by helping with the cleaning, cooking, maintenance and tending to their home gardens.
  • Fazana also described instances where, in the vocational programs run by the Foundation, some students who follow electrical engineering courses help electrify and maintain homes, places of worship and community centers in the village by providing free labour and donating or fundraising to purchase the electric equipment that is required.

Q: What are some of the strengths of the programs of the foundation after the tsunami?

  • Fazana explained that one of the ‘biggest strengths the Foundation of Goodness has is that approximately ninety percent of their staff who currently work or support the Foundation are all survivors of the tsunami. They have been victims and now they are helping others through their skills and experiences that they have gained’. Before the tsunami, the Foundation focused on computer training and village welfare plus English programs, they also operated a maternity and pediatric clinic. In the past decade through their hard work and growing support, the Foundation has been able to invest resources in a holistic approach for training, education, welfare, vocational and sports facilities to bridge many opportunity gaps and provide new prospects for the community.
  • The foundation has been able to replicate some of the successes gained at Seenigama in other parts of the country. In August 2007, the first Village Heartbeat was opened in Udumulla, a small and very poor rural village near Hikkaduwa. The Village Heartbeat projects has now also spread to many others parts, including the North – the once war torn region of Sri Lanka. These centers provide education and empowerment opportunities including library facilities, computer training, vocational and, in some centers, health clinics.

Q: What are some of the challenges the foundation faced in the last decade?

  • Fazana went on to explain that ‘there are many challenges that organisation has faced, for example the administrative red tape, political meddling, and stigma in society’. She further explained that, ‘the Foundation has been able to overcome these challenges by not being affiliated to any political party and being truly independent’. I asked her to explain what she meant by stigma. She pointed out that there are many stereotypes that many individuals from both urban and rural communities who voice their opinion to the foundation discouraging them from helping people of the North & East. Fazana believed this was especially the case after the Sri Lankan conflict, but she also explained that this is a minority view.
  • Fazana also pointed out that there has been a wave of new support after the conflict. These supporters and benefactors have been helping the foundation with micro and medium sized projects through funding, resources, material support and training development. The foundation has found that there is a tremendous sense of goodwill amongst many communities although a minority are holding an archaic view, which the foundation feels should change in time.

Q: What work does the Foundation do within schools in the country?

  • The Foundation works within many schools on meeting the psycho-social needs of adolescent students – phobias, social stigma, general counseling, self-confidence issues, education on domestic violence, violence and substance abuse. Fazana mentioned that after the tsunami many people turned to alcohol and substance abuse to deal with the trauma of losing family members, their livelihoods and their property. The foundation’s programs focus on developing student’s life skills and soft skills to better deal with general social problems.
  • The students are impacted by the educational programs to address and learn how to navigate self-confidence and self-esteem issues. Fazana cited an example when schoolchildren come to their computer classes they learn to use different forms of social media, but when they are home they do not have access to the internet or computers and their parents do not know how to deal with these new trends. Through their training and awareness programs in schools the students are able to use social media in a productive manner.

My impression of the Foundation after a decade is that it has grown in many ways and there is a strong visible social impact. I am certain that they have gone through challenging times but their vision and energy bodes well for many Sri Lankans, which will enable the opportunity gap to get a tad bit smaller.




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