By Fr. Jude Shalinda, OMI
“Suba-seth-gedara” (House of well wishes) is an Oblate House that is situated in Buttala, a small town in southern Sri Lanka. The Founding Father of the mission was late Fr. Michael Rodrigo OMI. His primary objectives in living among the rural Buddhists in Buttala were to work for social justice and to be initiate a true inter-religious dialogue with them – a dialogue of life. Eventually he became a threat to the powerful of the area and he was brutally assassinated on November 10, 1987. The message and mission Fr. Michael left behind was liberation of humankind from all kinds of suppression and/or servitude.
At present, there are three Oblate priests residing at Suba-Seth-Gedara where the community continues to take forward the mission of Fr. Michael from where he left behind. The three Oblates: Frs. Marius Fernando, Savindhu Dinusha and Shalinda Jude took time to revisit the mission strategies, that had been utilized for the past years 34 after the death of Fr. Mike. We took time to discern together what our mission priorities should be.
We realized that lack of education, both formal and vocational, aimed at self-help development was the principle cause for poverty, bondage and discrimination. Therefore, we decided to focus our attention mainly to uplift the level of education of the children of the area.
Pre-School: This pre-school was started (built) during the life time of Fr. Michael to lay a sound foundation for the education of the village children as an initial stage of education. Two teachers are running the school on daily basis.
“La-Kri-Vi” Children’s Association: The vision and mission of La-Kri-Vi to serve as accompanists to children on their way for a new world. Children were seen as the best protagonists for building a new Sri Lanka where the diversity of cultures, religions and languages would bring all communities to unite in forgiveness for the past and craft a harmonious future for generations to come.
English classes: Recognizing the importance of English, a need of the children, we have started to offer English classes to the students from age 8 onwards. There are about 70 children. The English classes are being conducted by two Oblates.
Computer Lab: As a part of the Education programme, we have also begun a computer lab. Even though we live in a digital world, most of children in the vicinity do not have the access not only to internet facilities but also to a computer. We recognized them as part of the “new poor” and equipped the lab with 10 computers with accessories and a daylight projector. This computer lab will facilitate the language classes (coaching) as well as the Information Technology classes.
Library: Establishing a good library for the children was another major project. At present we have a small library but our target is to provide a substantially well-equipped library and help children create the habit of reading and researching. Recently we also started a “mobile library” – a van that carries books around the village for the children to come and read or borrow books. It was a need of the time as the country was in lockdown due to Covid-19.
Aesthetic classes: These classes, initiated to develop their inborn talents for fine arts, provide them opportunities to learn (theory and practice) Music, Dance, Art. We hope this endeavor will broaden the minds of the children and help them become better human beings.
Scholarships: We came across many bright students who are struggling to have their basic school necessities and unable to participate in tuition classes due to the state of poverty in their families. Therefore, we have chosen very deserving 10 such children basing on their academic performances to provide financial assistance in order to continue their education uninterruptedly.
Other projects to enhance the living conditions
Sewing machines project: We bought 10 sewing machines and started training 10 village girls with the help of a professional teacher for an income generating project. Our aim is to produce clothes (T shirts, for the moment) to be sold at the open market. The profit we share with the girls and some of its income will be directed to the Suba-Seth-Gedara mission fund.
Project to create job opportunities: There are many women – among them widows and single mothers – who are unable to find a job due to the lack of job opportunities and inability to travel far from home. Therefore, the mission has organized a project to create some job opportunities to support them. We provide sewing machines for skilled women to work at home and earn their living. Our aim is to provide 10 machines according to funds available. So far we have been able to get them for two families.
Poultry farm: The Mission Centre will provide initial funds for 30 families to start poultry farms. We provide 30 layer hens per family and after a year each family should provide 30 layer hens to the mission Centre. These will be given to another deserving family. Likewise, the process continues as an ongoing project.
In all our projects so far, we have worked out a strategy that those who are benefiting one way or the other, to contribute (financially or volunteer service) as their share or contribution. We want them to realize that our Centre is not a place that merely doles out money. Acts of mercy becomes a “grace” when there is participation by the beneficiaries – peoples’ participation! We need to offer our services in such a way that “the poor may be brought to full consciousness of their dignity as human beings and sons and daughters of God” (OMI Constitution. 8).
Our mission at Suba-Seth-Gedara is not primarily to do work of an NGO in view of village development. We are Oblates. As St. Eugene de Mazenod saw it, in order to be genuine Oblates two realities become urgently and necessarily inseparable and indispensable, namely religious life and apostolic commitment.
We take this opportunity to thank our very generous anonymous donors for their contribution in our projects.