Situated 75 kilometres away from the Capital City of Colombo, the small village of Lower Garagoda is found in Yatiyantota, located in the hilly central region of Sri Lanka. This is where the story of Berendina begins…
Mrs. Berendina Borst from the Netherlands visited Sri Lanka for the first time in 1982, where she saw most people living below the poverty line. Also, these villagers were engaged in unproductive trades, subsistence farming and lived in basic or makeshift houses.
Living in this village was Mrs. Eva Mudalige, a remarkable teacher of English who was committed to social service. Mrs. Borst met Mrs. Mudalige and they became close friends. Eventually, becoming partners in work, they wanted to help this poor community of Garagoda come out of poverty.
Many committed people volunteered their assistance for this cause like Mr. Piyawardane, a clerk at the local council and Mr. V. Kodituwakku, a field officer in a plantation nearby, to name a few.
A Trust named Berendina Stichting was created in 1987 by Mrs. Borst to continue her work, which she had begun in Sri Lanka before she passed away that same year. She appointed her banker, Mr. Bas Timmermans as the Chairman, along with Prof. A.H.M. Santen and Mr. John Smit as Directors.
That same year, the Berendina Trust started working in Yatiyantota, continuing to help the poor families in Garagoda. This village received support to construct drinking water supplies and toilets, promoting health through nutrition and healthcare programmes particularly for children, the elderly, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers. Berendina also built and repaired their homes.
In 1992, Mr. Timmermans met Mr. Dulan de Silva, who was the Chief Executive Officer of SEEDS of Sarvodaya. He requested Mr. Dulan de Silva to assist Berendina Stichting as a Consultant in order to ensure that more productive use is made of the funds available for Garagoda. This fund was one million rupees in 1992.
In turn, Mr. Dulan de Silva sought the assistance of Mr. Anura Atapattu and Mr. Jagath Godakanda, both that had vast experience in areas of enterprise development and empowering people through economic and social services.
From 1992 to 2007, Berendina worked as Berendina Foundation, an International NGO registered with the Ministry of Policy Planning and Implementation. In 2005, at the request of Berendina Stichting, Berendina Development Services (Guarantee) Ltd (BDS) was established. In 2007, Berendina Micro finance Institute (Guarantee) Ltd (BMI) was formed and in 2015 Berendina Employment Center (Guarantee) Ltd (BEC) with the three part-time consultants acting as Chairman and Directors of all three companies.
Berendina: Over the years
Berendina's first staff member was Mr. Wasantha Gunawardena, a young man straight out of school with no work experience. But he had high motivation and determination to make a difference coupled with strong leadership skills, who later became Berendina's first Manager.
Berendina set up its first office in Garagoda in 1992 and with time, extended its presence to the entire Yatiyantota Division. The organization opened branches in Bulathkohupitiya, also found in the Kegalle District and to Ambagamuwa in the Nuwara Eliya District.
The expansion to the dry zone of the country began with Thirappene in Anuradhapura in 2007, extending to Trincomalee in 2010.
In 2011, Berendina started working in Nawalapitiya in the Kandy District. Berendina worked in Matara, Galle, Batticaloa and Ampara, in areas affected by tsunami in short-term projects since 2005.
Farmers were helped to improve their traditional agricultural practices, create agri-businesses and start up animal husbandry projects by Berendina. This was supported by the creation or restoration of anicuts and canals for good irrigation. Micro enterprises grew into established businesses that were provided with timely low-interest loans, skills development and support to develop links with service providers and markets.
Helping poor youth access employment has been a priority for Berendina. Initiatives in this area include the vastly successful Berendina Employment Center (BEC) and subcontracting work through Berendina Subcontracting Partnerships (BSP) for export-oriented industries. From 1992, charitable assistance evolved into a systematic community development programmes.
In 2003, Mr. Timmermans retired from the Board of Berendina Stichting and was replaced by Mr. Hein Princen, a former Ambassador for the Netherlands to Sri Lanka. In addition to the consultants and staff in Colombo, former Chairman Mr. Bas Timmermans and former Director Mr. John Smit played an important role in Berendina's work due to their personal interest in helping the poor.