Author: Malini Foundation Blog

DC to London to Colombo, Sri Lanka!

By Valerie Handunge, Founder, Malini Foundation  As I continue my work with establishing the Malini Foundation’s projects in Sri Lanka, I want to share the journey of how I got here, as well as some history on the country, to put into context the current situation for women and girls and why doing what I’ve set out to do is necessary. There are no direct flights to Sri Lanka. I decided to break up my 23 hours journey from the US to Sri Lanka with a stopover in London to visit family and to meet with our partner Advocates for International Development (A4ID) and a small London-based Sri Lankan non-profit. London is home to tens of thousands of Sri Lankans resulting from colonial connections and asylum-related migration due to the now ended civil war. In fact, there was quite a bit of media attention on Sri Lanka in London due to the Commonwealth Summit, which was held in Sri Lanka’s cultural capital, Colombo. The Sri Lankan government has received serious criticism for allegedly using excessive …

The Iron Lady

Karunawathie Menike (Karuna as she goes by for short) is an unassuming Sri Lankan woman with an inspirational story. Karuna is from Wilpotha, Chilaw, a village that used to be so isolated in thick jungle terrain that it had no electricity, septic system or roads until recently. Being in such a state of neglect, education and healthcare were not even considered necessities. But Karuna is no traditional village woman. She’s an entrepreneur, an advocate and a mentor to women’s groups around Sri Lanka. She helps them set up livelihood and savings programs to empower women to live independent and fulfilling lives. To understand the magnitude of her accomplishments we have to go back to the late 1970s during a time of extreme drought and crop failures. The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) provided food rations but the local distribution middlemen were corrupt and many families went hungry. Karuna, along with a group of women, went on strike and pleaded with government officials to allow them to manage the food distribution process.  “The food itself …

From High Heels to Flip Flops

Written by: Valerie Handunge, Founder, Malini Foundation When I told my parents that I was going to “take a break from my career” to start a non-profit, there was mad chaos in the house. “How will you survive without a job?” they questioned. “I’ll use my savings,” I replied. “How long will you be away?” they asked. “About a year.” Even my college thesis advisor, a professor of human geography and a theorist on poverty, whose teachings has influenced my approach with the Malini Foundation, expressed concerns. If he’s “nervous for me,” as he put it, I probably should think twice about this decision. However, when I told my colleagues at work of my unorthodox plan most of them responded saying, “I’ve always wanted to do [fill in the blank] but never got around to it.” With that I said to myself (yes, sometimes I do that): “You live one life, so don’t let your passion fall through your fingers!” But, I thought, I’m going to give this one shot and that shot better kick …

Introducing the Malini Foundation

By: Valerie Handunge, Founder, Malini Foundation I don’t think that my story is a unique one for a career professional but I may have somewhat of a different ending. My name is Valerie Handunge and I’m a management consultant – or at least I used to be until three months ago. I was at a top firm, traveled weekly to exciting cities and worked on intellectually challenging strategic projects with incredibly bright colleagues. I loved most aspects about my work but deep down I felt like something was missing. I craved meaning beyond career growth. I thought about the path I was on and saw myself in 10 years and then again in 20 years and while I’m sure I would have moved slowly but surely up the corporate ladder, it didn’t appear that I was happy or fulfilled. So after much thought, I made a drastic decision to quit my job to pursue an initiative that I have been passionate about for more than half my life – to foster girls’ education and women’s …