For nearly 18 years, from his office above Hansfords Menswear in Chichester, Matthew has run Extra Cover, a charity he co-founded to help Sri Lanka's poorest rebuild their homes following the Boxing Day tsunami in December 2004. The charity changed direction in 2007 to focus on education after Matthew saw how schools in the area were in desperate need of vital essentials such as food, water, shelter, medicines, clothing and basic educational materials.
Today, the times are hard everywhere but in Sri Lanka the food and energy problems have been exacerbated by the political chaos. The result is a severe economic crisis with shortages of even the most basic necessities. In fact, as we are writing this, the State of Emergency enforced in July is still in place. The situation is really bad for the wealthy but for the poorest, it is desperate.
The economic situation means the help Extra Cover gives to schools and families has been affected considerably. For example, over the past few years the charity has been providing 1200 meals every day which has increased to 1500 recently. The price per meal per day was 20 rupees; it is now 50 rupees with another increase to 65 rupees looming.
We know we need to do more so we are very excited to announce that Extra Cover is setting up a new initiative to provide long term benefits to the poorest families and the wider community. We are aiming to raise £25,000 to provide resources and education for families and schools to create and maintain their own vegetable gardens.
The aim is to ensure that, irrespective of the economic circumstances, families can eat at least one healthy, nutritious meal a day. As we introduce the self-sufficient gardening system, it will reduce the amount families have to spend on food. Any surplus food they grow, they will be able to sell at Village Fairs which means they will be more able to afford day-to-day living expenses and transportation. They will also be able to exchange any excess produce for other fruit and vegetables grown in the community. The Extra Cover team will provide training on gardening skills and organic farming methods as needed. We hope to organise regular gardening competitions with different categories - such as best garden or largest manioc (like sweet potato) - to motivate the families.
At one of the Extra Cover schools - Kaluwalagala Primary - they already use vegetables and herbs produced in the school vegetable garden as part of the daily Extra Cover meals. We want to roll this out to other schools, families and individuals in the area so more people can produce their daily requirement of healthy fruit and vegetables themselves.
We are going to start by giving gardening packs containing all the necessary equipment and seeds to selected schools who have required land and are currently supported by Extra Cover in the southern part of Sri Lanka. Priority will be given to an additional 200 parents whose children have been supported by Extra Cover and who are either single parent families or have a child with a disability. Then there are another 20 young adults with disabilities who come to the Extra Cover 'Suhada' community centre, and this will hopefully be developed as a model garden.
The plan is to use Suhada, or another Extra Cover school depending on viability, as a nursery from which plants can be distributed to those who are willing to start a garden. People with disabilities who already attend the Suhada centre will work on gardening as part of their training to learn how to make buckets and bags to plant seeds in, as well as watering, weeding and other related work.
Extra Cover will raise awareness throughout the communities and organise teaching for parents on different topics such as simple gardening techniques, how to develop an organic garden, how to make organic compost, different types of gardening such as using packets or baskets, as well as important food preservation techniques.
Although at a very early stage, things will evolve as we understand more, and we are all very optimistic about this initiative and are working hard to raise the funds needed to make this happen. If you are able to help us reach our target, please do visit www.extracover.org.uk or email email@example.com. Matthew is hoping to visit the area again shortly and will of course report back to you with all the latest news and stories and update you on how the vegetable gardens are progressing.
To donate go to: extracover.org.uk
Or contact: firstname.lastname@example.org