Selina Prem Kumar had a dream of lifting smallholder dairy farmers out of poverty after a 25-year civil war in Sri Lanka left thousands widowed, homeless and without livelihoods.
That dream has come to fruition, with a lot of hard work, assistance, planning and determination.
With three years of the project left to run and $500,000 still to be raised, Selina was in New Zealand recently to update the farmers, businesses and people who have supported this scheme, while at the same time looking to raise funds to take it to the next step.
Educated in Sri Lanka, Selina’s higher education was in the Philippines and she furthered her learning in the United States.
She then decided to return to Sri Lanka to work with underprivileged children.
While many people were fleeing Sri Lanka because of the civil war, Selina was freelancing on humanitarian needs. Then came marriage, an MBA, and a tsunami.
With encouragement from Ian McInnis, chief executive of Tearfund in New Zealand, an organisation that was arranging food, medical supplies, clothing and setting up a survivor’s register in Sri Lanka, Selina’s journey to making a difference through farming began.
All the years of surviving tough experiences had made her stronger and more determined to make life better for women and children involved in the conflict through no fault of their own.
The war and the tsunami meant a lot of women had to become providers for their families and children needed to be educated. Men were away fighting and, on top of that, they were also grieving for lost family members.
When families returned to the land after the war, although landmines were being cleared, the importation of fertiliser was stopped, making rice farming a challenge and a lack of income became a concern.
Selina has been the driving force behind Tearfund’s farming and enterprise partner in Sri Lanka, a project that was started to teach locals about chickens, cows, goats, and organic gardening, providing them with information on breeding, feeding animal health and food growing.
Most people had cows so there was an opportunity for excess milk to be sold. As a result, the cows were rounded up and a small dairy project was started.
It began in September 2011 with eight farmers making an average of $20 a month. Today there are more than 5000 farmers registered in the project making an average of $150 a month.
Out of all these farmers, 49 per cent are women who can now support their families and send their children to school.
The milk collection has risen from just over 200 litres a month to 40,000 litres a month in the lean season and 70,000 litres in the peak season.
Fast forward, this project has gone from strength to strength with milk being collected from various villages and farmers being paid a fair price for their milk.
There are also hygienic facilities, a chilling centre has been built, and testing standards put in place.
Farmers have been able to extend their range of milk products to include vanilla yoghurt, popsicles, frozen drinks, curd in pots, ghee, as well as drinking yoghurt – and there are other products in the pipeline.
As of January next year, they will be looking for distributors in all the local towns for their products and a marketing team will be put in place.
There is also a programme to ensure farmers get paid for the quality of the milk they produce and educational scholarships are available for children.
Tearfund has been behind the project by offering technology and training, as well as much-needed support as the scheme grows.
Donations from Kiwis, advice from New Zealand farmers, as well as assistance from the New Zealand Government, has been a driving force behind the project being a success.
Selina headed back to Sri Lanka on December 2 to continue the venture assisted by her team.
She wanted to say a big thank you to all of New Zealand for the trust and support that has been given.
Her message to all women is: “Never give up – there are opportunities out there for a better life for yourself, your children, and your family.”
Those interested in supporting Selina and her project in Sri Lanka, can head to giftforlife.org.nz and purchase either the Mini Moo or Care for a Cow Gift for Life card from Tearfund’s charity Christmas catalogue.