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A helping hand: Alumna works to feed those in need in her native Sri Lanka

Surani Dias ’81

Like many across the world, Surani Dias ’81 found solace outdoors during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dias, who lives in Sri Lanka, began spending more time in her garden and wanted to share the peace it brought her.

“I had a keen interest to encourage and give hope to people who felt hopeless,” said Dias, who started a business to help those living in apartments grow their own plants in November 2020.

“I prepared potted vegetable plants and also a few flower and medicinal plants they could easily grow with the package I provided,” she added. “All they had to do was water, fertilize, and nurture the plants.”

By the spring of 2021, Dias’s work had evolved to include a separate home-cooked meals business that fed those who were sick.

“We were able to provide a basic meal to those who needed support, which we were happy to provide,” she said. “This was at the start of my business. Our family, over the years, has fed the people in our area, since my grandfather and father’s time. So I have a history of feeding people because of my parents and their love for others.”

Born and raised in Sri Lanka, Dias came to the United States in 1977 to study chemistry at the College on a full academic scholarship. She moved back home in 1983, but struggled to find employment.

“I looked for a job in the industry, but at that point, most Sri Lankan companies were not happy to have women working quality control in labs,” Dias said. “I searched for a job in the business field and finally joined the largest finance company in Sri Lanka and pursued my MBA after three years.”

After working in the Sri Lankan financial sector for 17 years, she spent seven years in marketing for the University of Moratuwa.

In 2020, she retired from Cargills Ceylon PLC, a Sri Lankan retail, banking and restaurant company, after 12 years in various leadership positions, including head of training.

In addition to pursuing her entrepreneurial spirit, Dias has been working toward her Ph.D. at the Postgraduate Institute of Management in Sri Lanka.

Her latest focus has been helping the people in her community affected by the Sri Lankan economic and political crisis, which came to a head this summer after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country after months of escalating protests.

Sri Lanka’s economy collapsed as it defaulted on international loans and faced food and fuel shortages.

“Taxes have increased on food and medicine, making it difficult to survive,” Dias said. “This is worse for the poor people who depend on the government hospitals to provide them with medicines that are no longer available. We had no gas for cooking, nor petrol, from April to July 2022, so people had no means to cook.”

Working with a professional chef, Dias was able to use her connections to secure firewood to cook the meals. Soon, they were churning out between 200 and 300 meals a week, funded by donations.

And while a new president and cabinet have been appointed in Sri Lanka, the need remains.

“We search for sick, helpless persons and those with children who have lost employment,” said Dias, who shops for the food herself. “Many in the urban areas are poor, and everything is very expensive. We want to provide for those in need.”

This story appears in the Fall 2022 edition of Randolph College’s magazine, Vita Abundantior. 

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