Hayleys Puritas Sathdiyawara continues rejuvenation of rural communities in Sri Lanka’s dry-zone

Hayleys Mabroc Teas commissions 16th Sathdiyawara RO Drinking Water Project in Dutuwewa, Galenbindunuwewa.

Sri Lanka continues to grapple with a rising number of cases of chronic kidney disease of uncertain etiology (CKDu), with estimates of thousands of cases across Sri Lanka’s North Central, East, Uva, Southern and Northern provinces being recorded over the past decade alone. Leading the charge in the fight against CKDu, the Hayleys Group has been actively combatting the spread of the disease through the installation of Reverse Osmosis plants all across Sri Lanka’s dry-zone under its flagship CSR programme, Puritas Sathdiyawara.

Awareness and concern over the ravaging effect that this affliction has had on families and communities across the region is on the rise and it appears that the spread of CKDu is closely correlated with harsh, hot, and extremely parched conditions prevalent in these areas and resulting water-scarcity in the area. Day-to-day life has quickly degraded into a constant struggle as larger groups of Sri Lankans are faced with the life-threateningly difficult decision of consuming what little water they have and risking the fate which they have seen so many friends and family fall to, or struggle a while longer with no water at all.

Dutuwewa is one such village in Sri Lanka’s North Central province which has for decades endured these harsh conditions with little to no outside assistance until recently when a dedicated Reverse Osmosis water purification plant was established in the village for the first time as part of the continuing efforts of the Hayleys Puritas Sathdiyawara, finally signaling an end to the terrible scarcity of drinking water which area residents had stoically weathered for so many years.

Speaking at the ceremonial opening of the plant, Chairman and Chief Executive of Hayleys PLC, leading Sri Lankan conglomerate and one of the most diversified companies in Sri Lanka, Mohan Pandithage said: “Our goal with Puritas Sathdiyawara from the outset has been to ensure that we are able to make a lasting and meaningful improvement to the lives of these once vibrant rural communities. It is our duty to ensure that the basic needs of the people and communities of this nation are met, and their aspirations nurtured. Access to, safe, clean drinking water for these communities is absolutely imperative and we at Hayleys are fully committed to do as much as possible to fulfill this fundamental need and help to ease the plight of our people.”

Following the construction of its first RO plant in Maithreepura, Padaviya, one of the villages worst affected by CKD in 2014 Puritas Sathdiyawara has gone on to install 16 RO plants across four districts, providing life-saving access to clean, drinking water for over 33,000 men, women and children across 19 villages in the North and North Central provinces. In keeping with the established model of Sathdiyawara where key sectors of Hayleys Group companies sponsor the construction of a new RO plant, the Dutuwewa facility was sponsored by the Hayleys Group’s tea marketing and export business, Mabroc Teas, which is a leading tea exporter in Sri Lanka.

As one of the most respected premium tea exporters in Sri Lanka sourced from 38 tea estates in Sri Lanka, Mabroc tea gardens are certified by Rainforest Alliance and conform to HACCP & ISO 22000:2005, ISO 9001:2008, EU and other international standard. Consequently, the company maintains a long-standing engagement in sustainable initiatives which aligns well with the objectives of Puritas Sathdiyawara.

“It is a true honour for the Mabroc to be part of the Puritas Sathdiyawara initiative. This is our very first RO plant commissioning, and we consider it a privilege to be able to contribute towards a project that will drastically improve the lives of so many families and communities in Dutuwewa,” Mabroc Managing Director, Niran Ranatunga said.

Abeyratne a village farmer commented “Not having clean water all these years has been extremely difficult. And this contaminated water has caused a fast increasing rise in CKD affliction. There were many relatives and friends who were diagnosed with CKD and for them life has been hard. They get exhausted very easily, and get angry and frustrated as the disease affects their moods and disposition. It has been a great relief for all of us that we no longer have to worry about the poor quality and severe lack of water. We used to get water from the wells located in the area. This water has always been very hard and brackish. We are now so used to drinking clean and pure water that we realize how unbearable the previous water we have had all our lives tasted, and the harm it caused our families. We could not bear to drink that again.”

“My parents moved here from the Kandy district almost 60 years ago. At that time we had of course never heard of kidney disease and we would get the water we needed from wells that we usually had to dig ourselves. While life was never too easy for us, I feel that especially over the last 10 years, it has become much more difficult. The droughts are worse than ever before and it saddens us greatly to see how many of our friends and members of the community have lost their lives to kidney disease,” G. R. Sugadathasa, a local farmer and former Treasurer of the Regional Welfare Society explained.

The families that first settled this area following the construction of reservoirs in the area so many decades ago, still have their descendants living and working the same land, however changing climate patterns and a rising epidemic of CKDu, together with lack of basic comforts that draw younger Sri Lankans out of the rural lifestyles and into increasingly densely populated urban centers have taken a severe toll on these communities. “We want our children to stay here and help the village grow and prosper and become like the cities one day. If everyone leaves, our villages will remain unchanged.’ Sugathadasa added.

Community engagement is fundamental to the approach and vision of Puritas Sathdiyawara. In that regard, each of the RO installations has been designed in a manner that ownership, and responsibility for these life-saving facilities are retained with the residents of these communities. Particularly given that the conditions and requirements of each village differs from case to case, once each facility is constructed, it is handed over to Community Based Organization (CBO) of the village to manage the plant and distribute water and maintain records of distribution.

In charge of the Dutuwewa RO plant is Mr. Nandana, President of the village’s Community Based Organization. Having worked in close collaboration with Hayleys, Nandana is now determined to ensure that once the plant is up and running, that a systematic but simple process is established to manage the plant.

“Before Hayleys got involved, we had requested assistance from every person we could think of, because we could see members from our community fall ill and we knew that something had to be done. We are fortunate and extremely grateful to the Hayleys Group in hearing of our need and coming to our aid when it was most needed. This gift was totally unexpected. When we heard that our village would be receiving this RO plant, we never knew that it would be such a massive one. This unit is capable of supplying the total water needs of our village’s consumption. Now that they have done their part, we must do ours and ensure that this invaluable gift is well maintained and managed for future generations.”

He noted however that with the prolonged hardships that area residents had to face, many from the younger generation seem to have gravitated towards the idea of seeking out jobs in the city. In the process, he felt that some of the sense of community that he had enjoyed growing up had been diluted. However he noted that the fact that the RO plant was also built to with a dual purpose of serving as a community centre equipped with computers, internet facilities, and books and toys for children, as well as regular deliveries of newspapers, would in addition to quenching the thirst of residents, also bring them together in a shared space, thus serving to revitalize the ties that had helped establish this community over six decades ago.

“It is true that many of our young people are thinking about moving away from the village and they think that this will give them more freedom than what they have here. But my goal is to keep working and build our village to be as good as Colombo or any other big city when it comes to the ability to make a living. We believe this is possible and we will not give up on this dream, Mr. Abeyratne, a farmer from the village explained.

Indeed, the community centre is deeply appreciated with school children from the area like Imasha Udara, a Grade 10 student with aspirations to complete her education and share her learning with others. “Now that we have computers here, this will be so much easier for us students to read and to learn how to use computers. We can use them to learn so much more so we are all very excited.”

Location is naturally crucial to the success and impact of each Puritas Sathdiyawara plant, and a lot of effort is channeled into ensuring that an optimal location is found which is the closest and most central point for area residents. Remarkably, the land on which the new Dutuwewa RO facility (approximately 10 perches) and community centre is located on was freely donated to the Community Based Organization by one of the families.

Ms. R.A. Mallika Ranawaka a member of the Ranawaka family shared her reasons for donation. “We inherited all this land of 1 acre from my father, and since we wanted to honour our parents’ memory we wanted to contribute this 10 perches of it to this very worthy cause which will help uplift the lives of families and friends in our village, and do our part for an important social cause. After I discussed it with my brothers, we all decided that it was the right thing to do. We have seen how our community has suffered from a lack of clean drinking water and from the agonizing CKD affliction. The fact that this plant is now installed and that it will help all the 3000 families in our community makes us all very happy,” she explained.

Commenting on the future of Puritas Sathdiyawara, which is coordinated by Puritas a key business segment of the Hayleys Group that facilitates the execution of water projects, Rajitha Kariyawasan, Managing Director of Haycarb PLC and an Executive Board Member of Hayleys PLC, reaffirmed the group’s commitment toward further expansion of the project under the guidance of the Chairman and the Board of Hayleys PLC.

“The key known remedy to treat and reverse the effects of CKDu and it’s prevention is providing the access to and wide spread and continued usage of clean drinking water. Having seen the life-changing effects that access to clean, safe drinking water has had on communities across the region, we remain more committed than ever to expanding this initiative as rapidly and sustainably as possible, with the blessings of our Chairman, the Board and the patronage our key sectors of the Group. .”