As destructive as he is on the field, hurling the ball with untiring menace, off the field Muttiah Muralitharan is a creative force doing good deeds that go well above the call of duty. If you marvel at his achievements on the field — and they are unmatched — the work he has done off the field will floor you.
While sportsmen and celebrities of all kind usually turn to philanthropy now and then, it's hard to find someone who has done so much, personally, for a cause. To see for yourself you have to take a 22-kilometre drive from Galle, towards Colombo to the village of Seenigama, one of the worst affected by the 2004 tsunami. Over there you will find the Foundation of Goodness, an organisation that has touched the lives of people from 25 villages.
The starting point for the activities that the Foundation undertakes is the MCC Centre of Excellence, funded by the Marylebourne Cricket Club in London. Kushil Gunasekara, Murali's close friend and business manager, donated his ancestral property to provide a location for the Foundation's activities.
The property, called Lahiru, which translates to Rays of sunlight, was initially a holiday home built with the purpose of attracting tourists to the area. After the tsunami hit, though, Gunasekara, who is trustee of the Foundation with Murali and Chaminda Vaas as directors, gave new direction to the project.
Moving systematically to meet the need of the hour in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami, more than 1000 houses were built for those displaced. But since then this has grown well beyond a mere housing project with over 21,000 families benefitting one way or another. The Centre of Excellence hosts a general polyclinic where doctors treat patients for free and the amply equipped pharmacy does not charge for the medicines it dispenses. Alongside is a specialised dental clinic.
In other clusters there is a Women's Enterprise department where a wide range of education is imparted, from sewing and cookery, to scholastic pusuits. Once a person completes a basic course she is then sent to a business class. The well-equipped and modernly designed computer labs allow children from the villages to learn to use the machines aside from lessons on web designing and operation of basic software. Even those too young to use these facilities are not left out and bunch of tots were running amok in the free play school.
Just beyond the Centre the Foundation has rolled out what it calls is a model project, the Village Heartbeat. The aim is to ensure that every village has access to a computer centre, a library, a classroom and a community hall. Udumalle, the village where this flagship project was launched, has all these, and is the envy of the other hamlets around Galle.
And of course, there is a cricket ground, the Seenigama Oval, set up with help from the Surrey County Cricket Club. The main beneficiaries are the children from the Buddhivimala Vidyalaya, the school that shares a wall with the ground.
By the time you finish a tour of the areas that the Foundation of Goodness has touched you realise just how much is possible if those who have the power to do good use it effectively. The list of achievements is long and still growing. Much like Murali's achievements on the field.