The MJF Charitable Foundation officially launched the orange growing project in Pahalalanda in the Ampara district on the 26th of February 2011. The orange project is a community based project initiated by the Foundation through the Gemi Aruna community organisation. The name Gemi Aruna was given by the community which means ‘rebirth’ or ‘rejuvenation’ of the village. This project is intended at creating sustainable livelihoods for the people of the area. Historically Ampara district was famous for growing and exporting oranges. Due to various reasons this industry dwindled and now is no longer in existence.

The launch featured the planting of the first seedlings of orange which marks the rejuvenation of the orange cultivation in the district. The event commenced with the traditional lighting of the oil lamp and the ritualistic blessing of the land and the crops. The Chief Guest at this event was Wije Bandara, Head of Production, MJF Group who planted the first seedling to officially mark the commencement of the project. Speaking at the launch Bandara stated “I was born in this district and I received my initial education from Uhana which is the adjoining village. I remember this place as the orange farm when I was a child. I thought it unfortunate that the farm is no more but today I’m very proud that this community Gemi Aruna along with the MJF Charitable Foundation has given new life to the crops that lost its identity here. I’m sure we will do better than what it was and I wish every member of this community all the best.” The President of the Gemi Aruna society, Samantha Kumara also expressed his thanks to the Foundation for initiating the project and promised to work hard towards making Pahalalanda a place that will be renowned for fruits.

Samantha Kumara is a key figure in this community as he is a MJF Foundation Prisons Small Entrepreneur recipient. After leaving prison he has rebuilt his life and has successfully established a tailoring shop with the help of the Foundation. The Foundation approached Samantha to take the initiative in establishing a community based organization which would spearhead this project in order to empower the Pahalalanda community. After careful research and discussions with the people of the area and the Department of Agriculture, the Gemi Aruna community organisation was established in July 2010 under the Department of Agriculture. The society has 55 members who have all contributed a plot of land to grow the oranges with a total land area of 31 acres. The technical training and support for the project is provided by the Department of Agriculture, with the seedlings being sourced through them as well.

In addition to oranges, the community is also planting pineapples and other types of grain that will yield a quicker harvest and help sustain the project. The Foundation is also working towards establishing a water scheme for the community as they have difficulty in sourcing water. This water scheme is to be implemented before the drought season which is towards the middle of the year.

The East of Sri Lanka is fast becoming a favourite amongst tourists, and the orange and other harvests, once ready, will be a steady source of income for the community and will help develop the region as well which has suffered over the last few decades due to the conflict and adverse economic conditions.

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