Peoples’ Market at MJF Centre West – aglow for so many reasons

by Dilhan

The MJF Centre in Moratuwa was aglow again last night. This time with the determined optimism of 80 micro-entrepreneurs striving to better their lives. Undeterred by the light rainfall, over 700 visitors came to the MJF Foundation’s Peoples’ Market in support of vendors from across our nation.

Benefitting recipients of the MJF Foundation’s Small Entrepreneur Programme, our Womens’ Development Programme, Empower Culinary School, artisans and aspiring entrepreneurs from less fortunate communities, each of the 80 presented their passion packaged in their hope for a better future. That was the reason for the glow, and it illuminated the centre formed by my father Merrill J. Fernando to serve less fortunate people.

Alongside youth learning the culinary art at the Empower Culinary School – who offered delicious food – were inspiring women and men from around Sri Lanka, driven to participate by their passion for wild honey, spices, natural soap, plants, cassava chips as a healthy alternative to potato, traditional Sri Lankan New Year delicacies, sauces made with a lot of love and good ingredients and a lot more. As for our young Chefs at Empower, while acquiring new skills they learned to engage with guests, and develop an ability to engage with their guests in the jobs we aim to help them achieve in future.

For many our market is validation of their worth, helping elderly men & women work with the MJF Foundation to fine tune their passion into marketable product and present them to customers at the Market. For the youth with developmental disorders it was life changing, to interact with people  who buy their carpets, soaps and other products, strengthening their self confidence.

For visitors to the Market, it was reminiscent of a time that is long past, when a product was not only a price tag, and where its value was defined as much by the story of the producer as the taste or function of the product. For me it was fulfillment of my father’s desire to make the world a better tea, by sharing the benefits of success. The MJF Foundation is funded by Dilmah Tea, Resplendent Ceylon and touched over 100,000 lives last year, many entrepreneurs who benefited from the market. Yet it could also be described as selfish for there is far greater joy in giving than in receiving, and the my colleagues at Dilmah, the MJF Foundation and I felt that joy through the optimism expressed so clearly in the faces of the vendors who present their wares.

It was also deeply pleasing to see the validation of my father’s yearning for producers to receive a fairer share of their efforts so generously demonstrated. It was a momentous occasion and in the stories of each of the vendors, I heard the echo of my father’s voice guiding us with the truth that success is a blessing that – like all blessings – must be shared. That knowledge is precious, and it holds they solution to the multiple crises of inequality, climate emergency, poverty, and more.

Extending the natural yet transformational shopping experience at the Market, my Sunday lunch was exceptional today, a paradigm shift powered by the conversation I had with so many vendors last night. It was preceded by cassava chips from Asela’s mother (Asela is an alumni of Empower, now working at one of Colombo’s finest hotels), accompanied by millet pappadam from ‘Kos Mama’ who’s passion is for natural, healthy, Sri Lankan ingredients, sauces from an inspiring entrepreneur from Homagama and complete with curd and indisputably pure kitul honey from another.

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