On 29th December 2012, Dilmah Founder Merrill J. Fernando's MJF Charitable Foundation, extended its women's empowerment programme to Batticaloa in Eastern Sri Lanka. Forty four women, widowed as a result of the now concluded war, received livelihood support under the Small Entrepreneur Programme (SEP) of the Foundation in recognition of the resilience they have shown in the face of adversity.
The Small Entrepreneur Programme was established in the aftermath of the December 2004 tsunami to support deserving individuals, including affected women from the North and East, establish their own business and become independent overtime. The Programme is based on Dilmah Founder Merrill J. Fernando's principle that 'business should be a matter of human service' and that the benefits reaped should be shared with the greater community, especially the poor, the disabled and children. In keeping with this principle, every year, ten per cent of Dilmah's global sales are directed towards a large number of island-wide projects carried out by the MJF Charitable Foundation and Dilmah Conservation to support human wellbeing and sustainability.

Through the Programme, livelihood assistance is given to promising individuals who show an interest in developing themselves and their families through hard work and determination. Since the establishment of the SEP, many individuals have become successful small time entrepreneurs able to support their own families.
The Programme to empower war widows first commenced in Point Pedro, Jaffna in Northern Sri Lanka, where over 100 women have received livelihood support up-to-date. The success of the Jaffna programme and Dilmah's ongoing work in the Eastern Province paved the way for the current programme for women. The recipients, aged between 24 ' 46, all headed single parent families and had endured many hardships as a result of the war. They were provided with livelihood assistance in order to help them establish a vocation to support their families. Equipment distributed among the recipients included flour grinding machines, cement bloc making machines, sewing machines, cookers and cooking utensils. Poultry was also distributed as part of the programme. One of the main aims of this programme is to provide economic independence to war widows and to enable these women become part of the positive changes experienced in post war Sri Lanka.

The distribution of material was carried out by the invitees that included the Brigade Commander of the 231 Brigade in Batticaloa, Colonel Sudath Thilakeratne and the Honourable Mayor of Batticaloa Sivageetha Prabagaran. Speaking during the ceremony, Colonel Thilakeratne paid tribute to the Settlor of the MJF Charitable Foundation, Merrill J. Fernando for his work with underprivileged communities in the country. He stated that rural communities now have a better chance of becoming part of the development process thanks to the work of the Foundation.

The Mayor of Batticaloa acknowledged the support extended by a private institution as the MJF Charitable Foundation in changing lives of deserving communities. She thanked the Foundation for coming forward to support this group of women, who were struggling alone to feed and keep their families together.
Rajanikanth Shalini, a resident of Batticaloa was just 21-years old when she lost her husband in 2009. She was determined to provide a better life for her daughter and attended an advanced tailoring course before finding employment in a neighborhood tailoring shop. Having recognised her determination to provide for her child and her tailoring skills, the Foundation gifted a Zig Zag Sewing machine to support her efforts. A confident Shalini says 'I can now start dress making from my own home. You can see the difference when you visit me next time'.

Thambithurai Puwaneswarya, a 41-year old mother of one from Kommanthurai, Batticaloa lost her husband 6-years ago. She was barely able to eke out a living by selling vegetables and dreamt of providing her daughter with a good education and thereby a life of possibility. She was one of the proud recipients of a sewing machine and said -I can now earn something extra to give my daughter a better education'.

In addition to the support for war widows, eighteen carpenters and masons from the area received a set of working tools and equipment, courtesy of the Foundation to upgrade their existing business facilities. This is part of the ongoing efforts of the MJF Charitable Foundation to empower people engaged in different vocations in the Eastern Province. Previously, over forty bicycle repairmen from Batticaloa were provided assistance to upgrade their existing facilities. This was carried out with the aim of providing livelihood assistance to deserving individuals while also encouraging the use of the bicycle as a mode of sustainable transport. 

The Foundation distributed school bags and other educational accessories to over 100 children from low income families living in and around Batticaloa as part of plans to extend the outreach of the MJF Kids Programme to Batticaloa in 2013. Currently, MJF Kids Programmes are successfully carried out in Peliyagoda, Dematagoda, Moratuwa and Pallansena in the Colombo District, in Point Pedro in the North and in Siyabalanduwa in the South East of Sri Lanka. The MJF Kids was set up by Dilmah Founder Merrill J. Fernando in 2006, as part of his efforts to uplift the lives of underprivileged children living in the periphery of Dilmah factories in Colombo, home to some of the worst urban slums in the country.

The women's empowerment programme of the MJF Charitable Foundation has upto now supported nearly 170 war widows from the North and East. The continuation of the programme will ensure that deserving women will not be shut out of receiving support and thereby providing a life of possibility for their families.  

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