News ≫ Novato Woman Gives Back Through ‘A Taste of Sri Lanka’ Fundraiser

Novato Woman Gives Back Through ‘A Taste of Sri Lanka’ Fundraiser

Apr 27, 2016
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When a benefit event featuring Sri Lankan cuisine takes place May 12 in Novato, 10 kids on the other side of the world will be cheering on the organizer and her supporters.

For the third time, Carmela Chandrasekera of Novato is sharing her favorite dishes for A Taste of Sri Lanka, a special buffet event featuring foods from her home country. The event will take place from 6-8:30 p.m. May 12 at the Key Room at Homeward Bound of Marin in the Hamilton neighborhood of Novato.

Chandrasekera, an engineer for the North Marin Water District, not only has supported Novato causes in the past but worldwide as well. Since August 2015, she has provided monthly scholarships to 10 tenth-graders in her hometown of Avissawella using the proceeds of the special cultural feast.

“It brings me great joy to improve conditions for underserved people in Marin County and in the place where I grew up,” she said.

In 2013 and 2015, Chandrasekera used event proceeds to support the international Water for People organization and Homeward Bound’s Oma Village housing project, which is taking shape on Nave Drive in Novato. She supports those again in addition to her new philanthropic effort, Sisu Sahanasevana, which means “refuge” and helps the teens in Sri Lanka.

Living part of her life without running water is a vivid memory for Chandrasekera. She persevered and eventually earned a Ph.D. in ocean engineering. When shevisited Sri Lanka in December 2015, she met the young students she’s now supporting, forming a lasting bond.

“I have committed to providing scholarships to them until their graduation from high school,” she said. “I provided a catered lunch to the students and their parents. It was a very rewarding experience.”

Chandrasekera emigrated to the United States and moved to Marin in 2000 with her husband Hetti, son Kenny and daughter Thilini. Despite that she and her husband are both educated, it took a while to get financially settled. “I remember the stress we experienced as a family when we were on the verge of being homeless,” she said. “Now that I’m able, I want to give back.”

After Carmela landed an associate engineer position with the North Marin Water District in 2004, the Chandrasekeras qualified for affordable housing in Hamilton the following year. Following their starts in Novato public schools, Kenny is now a graduate of Yale University and a software engineer; Thilini is a graduate of Duke University and a paralegal at a law office.

At her day job, Carmela designs and manages projects such as the construction of water tanks, and water and recycled water distribution pipelines. The Water for People organization supports development of sustainable healthy water supplies in nine developing countries and believes access to safe drinking water and effective sanitation are basic human rights accorded by the dignity of all people.

Oma Village, a 14-unit housing complex, is now under construction at 5394 Nave Drive in Novato, about a mile from Homeward Bound’s headquarters and very close to the Chandrasekera’s home. Oma Village will be open later in 2016 to families in transition and working toward economic sustainability. Homeward Bound is the county’s largest provider of shelter and services, working toward the goal of ending homelessness with training, housing and hope.

Chandrasekera said her event will be a chance to enjoy the spices of Sri Lankan cuisine and learn about the benefit organizations offering hope to families. She’s handling the cooking along with staff from Homeward Bound’s Fresh Starts Culinary Academy. The menu includes:

Kaha Bath – lightly spiced aromatic long-grained Basmati rice
Kukul Mas Curry – chicken cooked with spices, Sri Lankan herbs and coconut milk
Parippu Hodi – mild red lentil curry tempered with shallots, garlic and mustard seeds
Curd Sambol – thinly sliced cucumber with refreshing yogurt
Bonchi – green bean curry
Watalappam – coconut custard pudding
Vanilla ice cream topped with roasted cashews and palm treacle
Complimentary Sri Lankan tea, Taylor Maid Farms coffee, water and lemonade. Wine available for purchase.
Tickets are $50 and available on Checks payable to Sisu Sahanasevana may be mailed to: A Taste of Sri Lanka, 113 Kelly Drive, Novato, CA 94949. All proceeds benefit the nonprofits mentioned. Questions? Email

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