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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.

Mannar, 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 Catholic origin.

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 cost/profit centres.

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 ease.

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

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