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‘TIS THE SEASON… TO BE GIVING

17 December 2022 06:01 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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With the holidays almost upon us, and with another year nearly at an end, the festive spirit has captivated us all. Homes decorated with baubles, mince pies baking in ovens, gifts wrapped and elves appearing on shelves, Christmas is all around us. Christmas is the season of giving and sharing; giving love, and sharing joy. It is also about faith, gratitude, appreciation, and helping those in need. Amidst all the festive celebrations, mulled wine, and yule log, it is important for us all to remember the true meaning of Christmas; the season of giving. 


On the 3rd of March 2021, post Covid19, at a time of great uncertainty, Women in Management launched their charity initiative, ‘The Free Kitchen Project.’ Foreseeing the looming economic crisis, Dr. Sulochana Segera, Chairperson, Women in Management announced the launch of her new project on the 28th of January 2021 whilst addressing the audience at the Women in Management Top50 Awards at the Grand Ballroom, Shangri La, Colombo. Reflecting on her announcement, Dr. Segera states that, “many laughed at me after I walked down from the stage. They asked me where I would find continuous funding to keep my project alive for more than a week. I had no funds in hand, no sponsorships, or commitments towards the project, I just had a vision and a sense of restlessness in me, I simply knew this is something I wanted to do, and I had to by hook or by crook find a way to bring into life.” Wanting her to elaborate further, I shared four questions with her.


(1)Dr. Segera, why a Free Kitchen? Being a single mother, I know the hardships I faced when I had to juggle a fulltime job, raise two kids, pay all bills, and put food on the table, three meals a day. It is never an easy task and I know when things get difficult, food is one of the first expenses we start to scale down on, as the priority is to always keep a roof above our heads and have electricity and water. Post lockdown, I noticed that many elderly people were homeless with no access to fresh, nutritious meals or clean water. I would cook and make about two hundred packets of rice and curry every day and go around distributing it to elderly folk stranded on the streets. I knew that this couldn’t be a one-off activity, and I had to find a way to do this daily. My primary objective was to give people access to a delicious, home cooked, nutritious meal that would give them the strength and energy required to go about their day in a more productive manner. Give them more physical strength to engage in their daily work. Post Covid19, Sri Lanka spiraled into an economic crisis resulting in many households tumbling into poverty and hunger. Schools were reporting a sharp increase in the number of students withdrawing due to economic hardships. WIM as an organization decided to step in to provide one meal a day, a nutritious breakfast for underprivileged school children residing in Colombo and the suburbs. What started off as a project solely funded by WIM snowballed into an initiative that has to date fed 30,000 adults and 5,000 school children. 


(2)Dr. Segera, who funds the project? The project is solely funded by Women in Management, our members, award winners, well-wishers, and friends. We also occasionally get donors via social media. They connect with us via Facebook or Instagram after seeing the work we do. We initially held the Free Kitchen once a week and overtime managed to organize it twice a week, however owing to the economic crisis, we have had continuous requests from schools and religious establishments, hence we now conduct the kitchen daily. The entire project is efficiently managed by Nilam Samsudeen, Head of Operations, The Free Kitchen Project. 


Speaking to Daily Mirror, Nilam Samsudeen, stated that, “I am proud to say that even when the country had a fuel and gas crisis, we were able to continue with our project. We didn’t halt even for a day. It is emotionally fulfilling to see the smiles of satisfaction on the faces of hundreds of hungry people daily.”


(3)Dr. Segera, who prepares the meals daily? Empowered by WIM, the entire project is handled by three women headed by Head Chef, Sriyani. 


Speaking to Daily Mirror, Sriyani stated that, “I don’t see this as a grueling task. This is probably the most fulfilling job I have ever done in my life. We are all employed on a full-time basis but honestly, we can’t ever imagine working elsewhere or doing anything else. We consider it a blessing to be able to do this work daily. We know what it feels like to be hungry. We have experienced it. Dr. Segera’s network who heard about our passion for cooking, places catering orders with us and even invites us to cook for their parties and events. As a result, the three of us have also been able to launch our own successful catering business.”


(4)Dr. Segera, what is your end goal? To end hunger in Sri Lanka, especially amongst children. I have witnessed children eating the free meal we provide them with tears in their eyes. One incident that deeply upset me was when I visited a school and held a free breakfast kitchen outside the school premises and a twelve-year-old girl came up to me with tears in her eyes and said that she and her siblings have only had one meal a day for the entire week and that too was a simple meal of milk rice for dinner. She quietly asked me if she can have two packets to take home for her siblings who has dropped out of school as they were always too hungry and weak.

 

This little girl motivated me to somehow find funds and run a breakfast kitchen outside different underprivileged schools in Colombo. My goal is to one day be able to feed all underprivileged school children at least one meal a day. One Headmistress informed me that after we launched our free breakfast kitchen attendance in her school had gone up from 80 students to 145 students per day. Social media visibility of our project has also helped us collect and distribute school uniforms, shoes, and books to children in need. Apart from feeding underprivileged children, I would also like to one day run homeless shelters across the island for people, especially families in need, so that they have a safe environment to sleep at night and have access to clean bathrooms. 


If you would like to contribute or obtain more information, please email Women in Management: [email protected] 

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