When he is not playing cricket Muttiah Muralitharan is doing what he can to make a difference in the lives of his fellow countrymen. The Foundation of Goodness began in 1999 as a moderate association between Murali and Kushil Gunasekera, his friend and manager, is today a nerve-centre of development work in rural areas. The 2004 tsunami caused Murali to change his outlook, and he moved from merely lending his name to a cause to getting directly involved. Murali took time off from preparing for the second Test to chat with HT about his project and why it is so important to him.
Talk us through your association with the Foundation of Goodness.
We tried to help the poor, needy people. What we were doing earlier was more informal. We couldn't afford a lot of money but we wanted to contribute somehow, so we would help when a surgery was needed or something like that. We wanted to build houses for people, but we didn't have the funds. We were assisting people in other ways like scholarships for students who couldn't afford it. We had been doing this for a couple of years when the tsunami struck.
Kushil was almost caught in the tsunami, I was driving from Colombo to reach a function but luckily I was 20 minutes late and someone called me and told me to turn around and head back. I was lucky — otherwise I would have been close to Galle — and I survived. At that time, the urgent need was for food and other goods. I came here (to Galle), and went to most of the other affected places as well. We gave out food and clothing to start off.
Then we realised that the most essential thing was to provide shelter. We organised funds from various places. I played matches to generate money. Laka Wijesuriya, a Sri Lankan, owns the Shenley Cricket Ground in England. We played there, with people from Kent, and collected about 30,000 pounds. Neil Fairbrother, who manages me in England, helped a lot. He collected about 70,000 pounds from various sportsmen who came forward — Michael Vaughan, Freddie Flintoff, some golfers. We played a match in Surrey. From the money generated, Surrey donated enough to build a cricket ground and some houses.
A lot of people tell their sponsors to help them out with charity. But your approach has been more hands on, hasn't it?
I did an advertising campaign with a cement company, and the deal was that instead of paying me, they would provide cement worth $100,000 because cement was then badly needed. It's easy to tell a sponsor to give the money and then say you're doing charity. That's the easiest way out. But if you want to do something personally, you need to have the right people with you. I have Kushil, who is not just a good manager but also a nice man. You know that not even one cent will go waste, and he will deliver the goods. Credit goes to Kushil rather than me. My part is in collecting money. The effort, planning, man power — you need these things, it's not only money. He has a lot friends and businessmen. They came forward and formed various committees, none of which was paid for. Volunteers came from Australia to work here. Singlehandedly, 90 percent of the work was done by Kushil.
The facilities you have put up are world class. It’s not what you expect in a small village like Seenigama …
We wanted to provide the best opportunities to people. The houses we constructed were quite basic, and cost about Rs 400,000 Sri Lankan. But they are comfortable for the people. When it came to other facilities, we thought there should be no compromise on quality. Computer centres, cricket grounds, swimming pool, we got lots of grants from other people. Bryan Adams donated the swimming pool. MCC has given a centre of excellence. Once we did about half of the job, people saw what we had done and came forward to give money because they realised they could trust this project. We wanted future generations to benefit because they can't afford these facilities in villages otherwise. We have done this as a model. If we get more funds, we can replicate this in other places, here and abroad. Now, there is a model to work on. If someone in India has a lot of money and they want to do something for a village, then Kushil is the best person to put on the job. People from America have called Kushil after Hurricane Katrina hit and asked him to share his experience and expertise.
My role was to play matches, go to functions and raise money. We went to Jersey island in England and collected about 40,000 pounds in a function. We created awareness and then people started to come forth with funds. But building something is only half the job, after that there is a huge cost in maintaining it. The thought is to get something like a million dollars, create a corpus and use the interest to pay for maintenance. If we don't maintain what we have, it will go to waste.