In 1970, a watershed movement to help the underprivileged was led by five vibrant young ladies in Galle. Almost 48 years later, these gentlewomen of the Muslim Ladies Study Circle (MLSC) have left a legacy of service.
Engaged in community service for several decades, the MLSC is responsible for the establishment of a vocational centre at Kahatowita in Attanagalle, serving the community over the past 10 years. The women and children in Kahatowita were duly benefitted under the patronage of the MLSC. As the numbers grew, the need for a more spacious building was communicated to the ladies at the wheel.
Business tycoon and well-known philanthropist, Alhaj Ellyas Careem responded positively to this need as he believed charity should be done in a constructive manner. When Careem attended an awards ceremony at the MLSC-sponsored vocational training centre in Galle, he came across numerous successful and independent women who had acquired their tertiary skills from the vocational training centre in Galle. Careem was a strong believer that charity should make the recipient self-supportive and not be made dependent through charity. It is with this belief that he extended support towards the establishment of a new and improved vocational training centre in Kahatowita, a densely populated village.
With a Rs.40 million donation from Careem, a three-storey building was erected for the new vocational training centre. Speaking at the humble opening ceremony, MLSC President Mrs. Ameena Faisz Musthapha said empowering women of the rural hamlets was one of the circle’s key objectives. “Our vision is to give women skills so they could gain not only economic independence but also the confidence they need to secure their place in society,” she said. “10 years ago, we commenced our first MLSC vocational training centre in Kahatowita in rented premises. We had no regret in investing our efforts at this centre as we found the teachers and the committee were very diligent and hardworking.”
“The teachers who conduct these classes have been trained at our headquarters in Colombo. They will be conducting classes in cookery, dressmaking, embroidery, cake icing, machine embroidery, computer studies, English and Thajweed. The MLSC Colombo has come forward to provide this centre with all necessary furniture and equipment for these courses,” a committee member of the MLSC said.
A close-knit community with a majority of Muslims forms the Kahatowita village. However, it is observed that they live in harmony and help each and every family of the village when in need. Their unity was illustrated when several underprivileged Sinhalese families were granted electricity connections through the efforts of the MLSC and the Kahatowita community.
In addition to vocational training, the community has also come together to engage in various community outreach programmes such as tutoring students for the scholarship examination and free medical clinics. The new building will be instrumental in reaching out to women in surrounding areas such as Udugoda, Thihariya, Pasyala, Attanagalla, Pugoda, Kal-eliya, Algama and Orchadwatte.
The Kahatowita vocational training centre educates some 150 ladies at present. The young and the old are enrolled in various programmes ranging from cookery to embroidery and craftwork designed to help them embark on self-employment ventures. The objective is to empower young girls and women to be self-sufficient and also to support their families.
15-year-old Faliha Falrik, who is enrolled in a computer studies programme, hopes to complete her course while attending school. “Through the vocational training course, I can support myself when I need to in the future,” she said eagerly.
Juraisa Jamaldeen, a young lady of 24 years, is a student at the Colombo University’s School of Computing. However, she has enrolled for courses in cookery and dressmaking at the Kahatowita training centre. “I’m excited to start learning new skills. I love to learn and this organisation has provided us with many inspiring examples. This programme motivates women to seek employment and encourages housewives to be economically independent,” said ambitious Juraisa who hopes to be a software engineer and inspire young girls of her community one day.
Munawar Alhaj Fayaz, a senior Kahatowita committee member said the village had endured numerous difficulties in the past. He noted however, through the amity, dedication and perseverance of the villagers, they have been able to overcome many hardships and become an exemplary village. “The new vocational training centre premises will empower not only the ladies of our community but our community as a whole,” he opined.
Vocational training centres sponsored by the MLSC have been established in Colombo, Galle, Panadura and Weligama. These centres have thus far produced approximately 7,500 qualified and capable women. The new vocational training centre building in Kahatowita not only empowers women but also ensures the continuity of education and quality vocational training for many deserving women in society.