Don Bosco Vocational Training Centres:
Beacon to a darkened landscape
Don Bosco Vocational Training Centres are located in all parts of Sri
Lanka. There are no less than 10 such training centres approved by the
Board of Investment alone and they scattered from North to the South and
East to the West. What business is a vocational training centre having
with the Board of Investment? That seems a very legitimate question.
The very purpose of the Board of Investment, since its inception as
Greater Colombo Economic Commission in 1977, is to attract foreign
investment, a dire need at the time, with a lot of incentives thrown as
the carrot for the prospective investor.
painting a new picture after the war. File photo
In such a context, the visit we made to Murunkan, Mannar, the very
threshold of a battleground in the recently concluded war against the
dreaded LTTE, was very interesting as a voyage to a distant land, and at
the same time, very educating from the point of view of what we learnt
in the process.
The immense goodwill that is pouring from the generous donors of
foreign countries coupled with the spirit, courage and sheer
determination of those who manage those funds and execute the various
human development programs is almost overpowering. That is what we
witnessed at first hand on this tour to the arid lands of Mannar. In the
midst of gun battles take shape some real human characters carefully
nurtured by the caring minds and hands of trained priests of the
We undertook this journey not only because we needed to set in motion
the process that would eventually lead to the ceremonial opening of the
centre, but also, I felt the need to get a first hand feel about the
surrounding area and its inhabitants and the spirit with which a
non-profit organization is run and managed.
The Murunkan Don Bosco Vocational and Training Centre is scheduled to
be ceremonially opened by Investment Promotion Minister Navin
Dissanayake on September 22. The love and care that is dispensed in
these centres cannot be measured in dollars and rupees, however, the
capital investment in the infrastructure and the recurrent expenditure
involved in the day-to-day running of the operation is calculated to the
last rupee by an ever diligent staff.
Allow me begin at the beginning. In terms of the project report
submitted by Don Bosco Salesian Provincial Delegation, the main
institute that is responsible for all the vocational training centres
established in the island, the broad mission is to establish vocational
and technical training centres in identified areas in the island mainly
for the purpose of generating employment opportunities and also to
provide technical knowledge to those youths who do not find means to go
for higher education or for technical or vocational training.
The most difficult part of the project is to sustain the centres for
a long period of time since such centres invariably become the first
victims of the adverse economic conditions due to their very nature of
business of being non-profit.
However, imparting not only the technical knowledge but a sense of
running an institute on a solid business footing becomes critical in
such situations. Headquartered in Negombo the Don Bosco Salesian
Provincial Delegation goes as Boscotek Pvt. Ltd. for the purpose of BOI
projects. What Boscotek has done over the past several years is highly
commendable and praiseworthy.
In all, Boscotek has ten vocational centres approved by the Board of
Investment outside the districts of Colombo and Gampaha. These 10
centres are approved under the Nipayum Sri Lanka, 300 Projects Program
under the auspices of Mahinda Chintanaya. These include, among others,
two in Kandy, one in Ahungalle in Galle district, one in Hungama in
Hambantota district, one in Nochchiyagama in Anuradhapura district, one
in Dankotuwa in Puttalam district, one in Metiyagane in Kurunegala
district, one in Nochchikuda in Kilinochchi district, one in Murunkan in
Mannar district and one in Bibile in Badulla district.
These 10 centres are geared to employ over 180 men and women and
train over 2,300 youth. The total capital cost is estimated to be in the
region of Rs. one million. The numbers are impressive, taking into
consideration the fact that these are not businesses managed and run by
corporate giants with bank loans to finance the cash flows but by
volunteer clergy staff with generous donations from the western
charities. In comparison with similar projects that deal with vocational
training, the very magnitude of the total undertaking of the Boscotek
group is enormous.
One cannot manage this kind of a well-spread network of vocational
training centres without proper leadership at the helm. In this
connection, one cannot help but be impressed by the very personalities
that are involved in the day-to-day management of these centres at a
micro level, and the planners and thinkers of the organization at the
macro level. Each of these centres is run as an individually successful
If any of the centres is not breaking even, the plight of that centre
is in peril, from the students to the staff to the suppliers of the
kitchen gear and equipment to the parents of the students would be
devastated. So it is paramount that the centres are run, not only
efficiently, but as vibrant, forward-looking businesses. How can such a
network of institutions be sustained over a long period of time?
That question can be answered only by a combination of factors,
ranging from prevalent economic and political conditions, and
availability of financial wherewithal, management practices, the flow of
donations and above all a grim determination and dedication on the part
of the administrators. Whatever might be missing in the future of all
the above-mentioned factors, determination and dedication will be
available aplenty. That is the impression that I got on my visit to the
two institutes in Nochchiyagama and Murunkan.
Our party consisted of Udaya Rupasinghe, Private Secretary to Navin
Dissnayake, Lalith Perera, Senior Manager, Engineering Approvals/BOI and
myself. The reception we received on our arrival at the Nochchiyagama
Centre was cordial. It was a pleasure to be a witness to the loyalty and
affection that the inmates displayed towards their “teacher”, Father
Pinto when he alighted the vehicle.
After some refreshing exchange of courtesies and soft drinks, we
retired into our rooms to get ready for the ritual of dinner which laid
spread on a simply decorated dinning table. The dinner was pittu, string
hoppers and rice with three different varieties of tank fish cooked in
various mouth-watering ways. The camaraderie attitude of the inmates was
almost infectious, encouraging us to intermingle with everyone with
This is, of course, part of the upbringing that is inculcated into
them by the clergy from whose attention nothing seems to escape. After
this sumptuous meal we decided to hit the hay since we were scheduled to
take off for Murunkan early next morning. Sharp at seven the following
morning we set off for our destination, Murunkan and what we witnessed
on the way up was quite fascinating and educating.
The check point at Medawachchiya did not consume much time since we
were among the first arrivals; the path between Madawachchiya and
Cheddikulam was rather regular, but soon after Cheddikulam the change in
the colour of the soil was so apparent; the rich red soil was
ever-inviting to the hard working farmer’s plough, awaiting better
times, I am sure, which would arrive soon.
To be continued
The writer is Advisor to Enterprise
Development and Investment Promotion Ministry