Empowering Women and Uplifting the Rural Economy – the Dambadeniya Way
Posted on April 11th, 2011

Presentation by Sunil G. Rodrigo at the Dharmavijaya Foundation’s Board Room on Feb 27,’11

I am very happy to have had the opportunity to arrange for a very interesting presentation by Mr. Sunil George Rodrigo, CEO of Dambadeniya Export Development Village, on Sunday the 27th of February, 2011 in the Board Room of the Dharmavijaya Foundation located at 380/7, Sarana Road, Colombo 7 commencing at 3.30 p.m.. I was getting back to Canada the following night, and found it to be a most rewarding experience following six weeks of charitable work carried out on behalf of the Sri Lanka United National Association of Canada and other projects jointly carried out by my wife Mali and myself.

 Among those present were several expats who were holidaying in Sri Lanka at the time and yet others engaged in charitable organizations of Sri Lanka with whom we are closely associated. I am grateful to those who participated at very short notice, some of whom are listed below:

 Mr. Olcott Gunasekera, President of Dharmavijaya Foundation

Mrs. Badra Gunatilaka, Trustee ” ” “

Mr. Mahinda Karunaratne, President of Karuna Trust

Dr. Hema Goonetileka, Director Red Lotus and Editor Buddhist Times

Ms. Ramani Wickramaratne, Secretary, Centre For Buddhist Action

Mrs. Ira Mediwaka, UK ( Sri Lanka Village Development Society “”…” UK)

Mrs. Anoma Silva, UK “”…” Sri Lankan activist in UK

Mr. Wimal Ediriweera, Sinhala Centre, UK

Mr. Jeevinda de Silva, Sri Lanka Assn.New York and Trustee, Bhavana Society,WV

Mr. Neville Laduwahetty, Washington, USA (Friends of Sri Lanka in US-FOSUS)

Dr. Mahes Laduwahetty, ” ” ” ” ” ” ” ” “

Ms. Irangani de Silva, London, Ontario (Past President, SLUNA Canada)


 I introduced the guest speaker Mr. Sunil Rodrigo as a close friend of Prof. Sunil Wimalawansa of New Jersey and a school mate of his at Ananda College, Colombo. Sunil Rodrigo was an expert in Dairy Management and Dairy Products who worked as the Chief Executive Officer of the Dambadeniya Export Development Village which was owned by the poor women residing in the 212 villages in the Narammala “”…” Dambadeniya area. Mr. Rodrigo functioned as a consultant whist the women directors of the organization took all of the management decisions on behalf of the share owning women. I learnt from Mr. Rodrigo that nothing was provided free in the organization and that the shareholders and their families had to earn their keep by engaging in the business activities. Sunil was also recently recognized by a British Business organization (BTI) and presented an award for the outstanding achievements of the Dambadeniya Group. The participants too were introduced to each other before calling on Sunil to address the gathering.

 Address by Mr. Sunil G. Rodrigo:

 Main Activity: Mr. Rodrigo explained that the company had been established in the mid-1980’s with a grant of Rs.100,000.00 from the Export Development Department. He had been its CEO for the past ten years during which period their assets had grown to nearly Rs.12 billion. In his Power Point presentation, he illustrated the main area of activity where the village women with the help of their families wove little boxes out of Thall and Pung leaves found abundantly in their locality for packing tea for export markets. They maintained high quality standards and were able to earn an average of Rs.4,000.00 per month, whilst the earnings ranged from Rs.2,000.00 for part-time involvement to Rs.8,000.00 monthly. They have recently had inquiries from a big time tea marketer in the USA (Carriage Tea Sales) to supply boxes of different designs periodically to suit American tastes. The tea export trade has long term trade relations with the Dambadeniya Village group with ongoing orders keeping them busy.

 Liyasaviya Credit Facility: The shareholders are required to contribute a small percentage of their sales income into a fund known as the LIYASAVIYA, which serves them as a low interest credit facility also managed by their representatives, that maintains a recovery rate of 99.9 percent in the redeeming of loans. The Liyasaviya too has now built up a fund of Rs.7 million, which continues to grow.

 Dairy Sector: He pointed out that they have expanded into the dairy sector looking after milking cows, and benefit directly from his expertise in this industry. They grow a special type of grass which grows into a tall clump in their small plots, and is adequate to feed a cow by harvesting just five clumps each day. One of the women has been trained in the making of cheese, and her products had recently been selected the First Runner-Up in an international competition. She was offering the best price for milk in that area and had thereby secured a steady supply for her cheese manufacture. Her cheese could be bought at a shop called “ƒ”¹…”Margueritas’ on Park Road, Colombo 5, and another store called “ƒ”¹…”Michael Angelos’ at Koswatte Junction in Nawala. The five star hotels in Colombo purchased their Mozzarella Cheese for their Italian dishes from this Dambadeniya cheese maker.

 Involving the Village Men and Families: In response to a question from Ramani Wickramaratne as to the attitude of the men folk with the women playing the key roles in the company’s affairs, Sunil informed that the men were also involved in the work such as collection of the weaving leaves, working for Liyasaviya, cultivating their vegetable and paddy crops, and assisting with the care of the dairy cows. Sunil also pointed out that they had succeeded in involving the whole family by starting Computer Clubs, Environment Clubs, Radio Clubs doing their own broadcasts, holding Sports and Cultural events, to ensure that the business activity had a steady flow of participating shareholders to keep it going.

 Leadership: He stressed the importance of responsible leadership, and the need for the leaders to perform in order to hold their positions. They had Community Group Leaders in each village that met with the village community periodically and discussed their problems and ways of improving their conditions. Participants at the village community will contribute an item of value in the range of Rs.50.00 to the group leader or other person hosting a group meeting, which was fair compensation from the attendees numbering in excess of 50 at such meetings. The members selected the Board of Directors by choosing those displaying good leadership qualities. Even the Youth Groups were encouraged to take on leadership roles and resolve their issues on their own or under the guidance of adults if necessary. Pictures of the Board of Directors and Community Group Meetings were projected on the screen making quite an impression on the audience.

 Training in Modern Methods: The Dambadeniya group is fully computerized and has a database of all the Veterinary Doctors in the area who may be contacted to treat the cattle maintained by the villagers. They would summon for help in the event of any cattle falling ill by sending an SMS to the Central Computer which in turn will get in touch with a minimum of three Vets in the area, of whom one will promptly attend to the case. The Central Computer will also send out queries to the shareholder women inquiring about their hobbies or carry out some survey, which encourages them to interact with the computer by providing answers via SMS. In this way, they are becoming familiar with the computer system and also improving their English skills and knowledge. Experts required for any programs are also hired on contract basis if needed.

 Murunga (Moringa oleifera) Project: Sunil’s latest move is to cultivate Murunga on a fairly large scale due to the nutritional value in the fruit and the leaves which contain nine Amino Acids which are the building blocks for protein. One of Sunil’s slides compared the nutritional content in Murunga leaves which far exceed that in other sought after food items. Here are a few examples that would give an idea of highly rich nutrients this undervalued plant really possesses:

Contains 4 times the Vit.A as found in Carrots

” 36 times the Magnesium as found in Eggs

” 50 times the Vit B as found in Bananas

” 63 times the Potassium as found in Milk

” 4 times the Calcium as found in Milk

” 25 times the Iron as found in Spinach

” 7 times the Vit C as found in Oranges

 Murunga is indeed a miracle plant which could become an abundant source of nutrition for the people. He said that feeding just 15 grams of Murunga leaves each day to a child in either fresh or dried/powdered form, is all it takes to prevent malnutrition in children.

You could learn more by accessing the following videos in the internet, the links to which are http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EJb1BHmNbY and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dn3MecwKfPI&feature=related. The dried and crushed or powdered leaves could be added to congee, spread over the rice or cereal, added to biscuits or made into pill form.

 Murunga would grow with ease in the arid as well as wet climes of Sri Lanka. Sunil wants to introduce a good variety from Kerala, India. He has worked out the costs, and says that US $6.00 (Rs.600.00) would suffice to provide 10 plants to a single family. The yield from 10 plants would give each household added income from the second year onwards as noted below:

“ƒ”¹…”One household could start getting income in the 2nd year [in some cases after 9 months] with an average 20kg per tree, giving 200 kg per harvest. As one could collect 2 harvests per year, it would give them an average of 300 – 400 kg of Moringa per year. This will give them an annual household cash flow of Rs.30,000 at Rs100 per kg at farm gate on the lower yield of 300 kg. One kg of Murunga leaves could replace 1 kg of cattle/poultry feed that would give them an additional benefit by using murunga leaves’.

A new organization carrying out sustainable development and training plus guidance in the use of appropriate technology in enhancing the effort of the poor in achieving a better lifestyle, known as the Social Performance Development Centre-SPDC has already been set up at 193 Puskoladeniya, Giriulla, Sri Lanka (Tel. 94-37-2289898). Those donating funds for distribution of Murunga plants to the people living in the rural areas will be able to access the SPDC website and track the progress of the recipient farmers including crop yields and related incomes.

 Sunil has set a target of 500 households to be provided with 10 Murunga plants each by the end of 2011. This project will cost a total of $3,000 at the rate of $6 per household, which is well within our means. It is hoped that those who receive this note will respond favourably by remitting your donation to the SOCIAL PERFORMANCE DEVELOPMENT CENTRE at 193 Puskoladeniya, Giriulla, Sri Lanka at an early date. (I am pleased to let you know that Mali and I have already contributed funds for supply of Murunga plants to the 48 households in one village.)

 Conclusion: There was a great deal of interaction between the participants and the speaker making it an interesting and useful meeting. This opened the eyes of those present to devising newer ways of reaching out to the needy and helping them to help themselves through their own efforts with a little guidance to uplifting the living conditions, without resorting to mere handouts which fails to induce the recipients to strive for their betterment. The formal meeting concluded at 5.30 p.m. with our thanking our guest speaker, but he remained behind a while longer to answer queries and deal with issues from participants who wished to help. I trust you would be willing to support such development programs in your motherland as outlined above, and help in extending the Dambadeniya model to other parts of the country.

 Yours sincerely,

 Mahinda Gunasekera
Tambrook Drive, Toronto
Ontario, Canada
Dated: April 10, 2011



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