Can the ethical tourism in Sri Lanka really be used as a force for good? Can leisure travel fight issues like poverty and inequality? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you knew that your vacation dollars really went to help the people you met and weren’t funneled into some corporate structure somewhere? We saw these ideas put into action first hand during our stay at Mahagedara Wellness Retreat in Sri Lanka through the conscience choices of its courageous owner, Lakmali Abeynayake.
The Prodigal Daughter Returns to Sri Lanka
Although Lakmali is native Sri Lankan, she had the benefit and insight of a western education. When she was five, her family relocated to southern Africa because of her father’s career in finance. This arrangement allowed her to go to college in England and continue in the family tradition of financiers. She was successful in her own right, working at Procter and Gamble, British Railways, and MacMillan Cancer. She climbed the corporate ladder, ultimately obtaining the position of CFO, but like so many of us, there were some things that money couldn’t buy. She returned to Sri Lanka in 2012 looking to reconnect with her heritage and find a way to directly help people.
When Lakmali first returned, she continued her work as a CFO for a software company in Colombo as she searched for the perfect location to build her dream. She looked for a property that had undisturbed jungle with close proximity to Sri Lanka’s cultural heritage. She found a plot of land, just outside of Dambulla , Pidurangala, and Sigiriya that had great potential and knew this would be the home of Mahagedara Wellness Retreat.
Lakmali said Mahagedara is Sinala for a childhood home. It’s someplace that will always feel like home and you can be comfortable at. How ironic that this was her personal project when she returned to Sri Lanka. In many ways, she found her return less than welcoming. When we asked about what it was like to start up Mahagedara, Lakmali said “Everything is harder as a woman because you have to prove your competence much more than a man would. The assumption is that you don’t know things, and therefore you have to prove yourself.”
Her vision of the retreat was that it would be one with nature. All of the buildings are laid out to minimally disturb the jungle. The majority of the food served at Mahagedara Retreat is grown on the property. The grey water is recycled into the surrounding forest, which makes a visible difference during the Sri Lankan dry season. Even the dishware and artwork were purchased from local artisans. Everything was designed from the ground up to give back to the people and the land.