The Merrill J. Fernando Charitable Foundation was formed – like so many others of a similar nature – to help less fortunate people. That was the wish of its Settlor, my father Merrill J. Fernando, and it continues to be the focus for its team of nearly 300 people, and also for my brother and I, for the Trustees of the Foundation and for our families. The MJF Foundation is not a conventional charity; it was born of a wish to use earnings from our family tea to deliver impact – offering kindness to those who need it, and doing so effectively and efficiently. The Foundation started small, like our family business and its method evolved through our own experience.
Initially it was my father, his 18 workers and their families and it was a time before kindness was considered a part of doing businesses. Framed in the answered prayer that guided my father’s Dilmah story from dream to reality, his wish was to share the blessings we receive in such abundance with the less fortunate. God’s method is man, after all. So he embedded that wish into our business through an irrevocable commitment to a minimum 15% of our pre-tax earnings to benefit the less fortunate. The MJF Foundation has grown, refined by the harshness of the tsunami in 2004, the humanitarian demands during and post conflict, and the current priority of building hope amidst global economic, health and social crises.
In our Child Development Centres, Schools for typical & differently able children & youth, our Culinary Schools, Womens Development programmes, child cancer and other programmes involving over 100,000 beneficiaries each year, there is one very important learning, that underlines the effectiveness we aspire to achieve in touching the lives of less fortunate people, their communities and environment. It is also the reason for this post; success only happens where charity and human dignity meet.
… there is one very important learning, that underlines the effectiveness we aspire to achieve in touching the lives of less fortunate people, their communities and environment. It is also the reason for this post; success only happens where charity and human dignity meet.
Our mission has always been to replicate my father’s Dilmah story by encouraging youth, women or less fortunate people to discover their ability, and then help them to refine it into a skill – whether cooking, teaching, farming, or entrepreneurship – so that they and their families could harness the benefits. The old adage about teaching a person to fish, rather than giving them a fish applies of course, but for any good deed to be genuinely good, it needs to be self sustaining. The difference that we can offer is to guide beneficiaries – as we ‘teach them to fish’ – on where to fish, what and how best to catch and importantly, add value – how to cook their fish well to achieve the best return for their benefit.
These are the elements that give beneficiaries, control over their destiny, avoiding the dependence that is too often the result of well intentioned charity. To use a different metaphor, it is offering a crutch to an injured person, and helping them along in the knowledge that the crutch must eventually be removed for them to stand and walk on their own. Sustainability, independence, dignity. These happen only with the beneficiary’s active partnership in the process and our respectful involvement. The alternative is dependency, often more damaging than not helping at all.
At the MJF Foundation Peoples’ Market held last Saturday at MJF Centre West, in Moratuwa, over 40 vendors participated. They included people supported by our disability programme, youth in our Empower Culinary Schools, beneficiaries of the Foundation’s Womens’ Development Programme, others from our programmes for people with cerebral palsy and developmental disorders. The Centre is never more alive, and my father’s philosophy so vivid as when these vendors come together, bringing their dreams, supported by their commitment and the result of their efforts evident in their sales.
43 vendors offered their products to nearly 400 people who visited the Peoples’ Market last week. Each vendor has a remarkable story. I present below some of the images I captured that day, featuring inspiring, dignified men, women and youth so that you may share in the joy that their success brings us. Although each one is at a different stage in their journey they all display that most critical ingredient for the success of any form of kindness – dignity.