Mankada, the Dilmah MJF Centre for Empowerment through Arts and Crafts in Uda Walawe, is an artisanal pottery centre that seeks to provide employment to women living in the area. Mankada was set up to support the local community with a permanent and sustainable occupation (pottery) by leveraging the local tourism economy underpinned by the Uda Walawe National Park.
The foundation trains, equips and mentors people from the community – especially women. Their income helps support over a hundred families in the nearby village while also contributing to help reduce gender gaps in income. Besides economic benefits from tourism, Mankada also receives modest business orders, by enterprises who require artisan craftsmanship.
The local community is generally engaged in cultivation, toddy tapping and low-pay manual labour, while many also make ends meet through odd jobs. Upward mobility has historically been limited due to a lower than average literacy rate in the area. Therefore, Mankada provides vital economic support through meaningful and sustainable means as a viable source of income. The artisans are known to draw inspiration from nature – specifically the national park in the vicinity that is home to a number of elephant herds. In turn, images and figures of many animals make their way onto beautiful mugs and kitchenware. Elephant-based designs and prints or mugs are some of the favourite souvenirs purchased by visitors. The craftswomen of Mankada produce terracotta kitchenware, replicas of animals on mugs, and other designs inspired by traditional Sri Lankan culture that to this day supports many rural communities.
Image: MJF Foundation
Over the years, Mankada has become a pottery hotspot in the area – not only for their unique designs but also for the high quality of product achieved. It is reported that the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver promoted Mankada craft items as part of his “Jaime Collection” of handpicked items for a relaxed style of dining!
Wild Coast Tented Lodge offers guests the opportunity to visit Mankada, see pottery-making in action, and even take an informal pottery making class. A traditional local village lunch is also on offer – Mankada’s craftswomen are known for their scrumptious fare!
The experience is chargeable, and proceeds go directly to the craftswomen of Mankada (and also helps keep the traditional art of pottery alive in the area).
Image: MJF Foundation