The tiny South Asian island of Sri Lanka has weathered its share of hopelessness and hope in this century. A joyous exodus from a colonial grip was bloodily punctuated by a decades-long Sinhalese–Tamil civil war to be later solemnly followed by the angry ravages of the 2004 tsunami, which claimed over 40,000 lives. Yet, the denizens of destruction seem to have done little to extinguish this nation’s pride and its pursuit of survival and success.
Symbolic of this thrust for semblance are organizations such as the Foundation of Goodness (FOG) that have energetic and undaunted founders and trustees at the helm, such as FOG founder Kushil Gunasekera and the nation’s beloved and legendary cricketer Muttiah Muralitharan, popularly known as Murali.
Murali comes to the Bay Area to help raise funds for the North Empowerment Project in Mankulam, Sri Lanka. The estimated $7 million project will build a school as well as a sports complex for displaced civilians from the civil war, according to Anura de Alwis, a longtime friend of Gunasekera who initiated the California branch of the foundation.
Cricket is the most popular sport in the island nation. The Sri Lankan cricket team won the much coveted 1996 Cricket World Cup amongst a host of other titles and test matches during the last decade. Murali was rated the greatest test match bowler and is the world record holder in Test and One Day International (ODI) cricket. Murali recently retired from cricket in 2010 after registering his 800th and final wicket in July 2010.
Cricket fan Swati Doshi Jhaveri is a die-hard who watches matches weekly and owns an extensive collection of cricket memorabilia and player autographs. She calls Murali “one of the best spinners the world has ever witnessed. In spite of reaching this height of fame, he is still so humble.”
Mahinda Rajapakse, president of Sri Lanka, donated a 50-acre parcel in the war-devastated region of the northern province to Murali, and to date the area has been cleared of land mines, initial groundwork for the foundation has been laid, and an estimated 1,000 bicycles and backpacks loaded with school supplies have been donated to children, de Alwis says.
The Sinhalese Gunasekera managed Tamil-born Murali during his cricket years and their symbiotic relationship is based on not only the shared desire to uplift rural communities in particular its children, but also serves as a tacit model of Sinhalese-Tamil collaboration. Gunasekera had set up FOG in his ancestral home of Seenigama in 1999 at a small scale to provide essential services to local communities.
In 2004, when the south of Sri Lanka was hit by the tsunami, Gunasekerapersonally saved dozens of lives by working with Murali, fellow trustees, and generous donors at FOG to provide immediate response in transport, food, and care. FOG continued service expansion in education, computer and business training, health care, psychosocial support and housing. Canadian pop singer Bryan Adams donated a swimming pool, and a number of cricketers and administrators from the U.K. and Australia have also generously contributed to FOG.
The rehabilitation also touched hundreds of lives, says Gunasekera, who recalls Neranja, an 18-year-old woman who heartily trained in the sports complex and went on to represent Sri Lankan in the national netball team. Gunasekera also recounts Podi Sampath, 25 who was picked up in a relief camp and demonstrated “a very proactive and dynamic persona during five years of volunteer service.” Sampath is now FOG’s chief operations officer.
FOG is also involved in assisting its recipients of aid with alternative income streams. Prior to the tsunami, coastal villages largely depended on illegal coral mining that was detrimental to the environment, according to Gunasekera. Divers routinely broke coral improperly to bring it ashore for lime powder conversion and in doing so contributed to removing a natural sea barrier against large waves. FOG has assembled training centers where hundreds have been trained for diving and harbor jobs in Sri Lanka.
FOG’s goal in the next 10 years “is to narrow the gap between urban and rural life—the centers provide one of the best opportunities to children in shaping their careers,” Gunasekera says. He adds poignantly, “I never expected this to be so gigantic, nor that it could come from a tragic tsunami.”
Gunasekera’s foundation and its business model, which converts villages into self-sustained communities, have been very successful in Seenigama, and the replication of this model to serve the civilians of Mankulam was a natural progression.
The outdoor carnival-like event will take place at the 100-acre estate of Bay Area Sri Lankan Surya Kumar. Food and beverages along with band music, bhangra dances, and face and mehndi painting will be provided as entertainment. Participants can meet Gunasekera and spin an over with Murali or have him sign an autograph. Raffles and silent auctions for cricket memorabilia will also be available.
Sunday, Aug. 21, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Anandha Tidul, 2401 Via Diablo, Diablo. RSVP by Aug. 7. $100 general, $50 ages 10-18, children under 10 free. Tickets: (408) 781-2205, (925) 351-8173, (925) 828-1329;[email protected] www.priyan.net/FOG/index.html.