May 11, 2019, 6:36 pm
Sharon Silva with some employees of his company
His first day in Berlin
In his office in Berlin
Some of the company’s vehicles
Sheron Silva personifies sheer grit, determination and perseverance. With nerves of steel, his passion to realize his dream of reaching the pinnacle of success, amidst many obstacles, is worthy of emulation.
He was born in Nattandiya on the western coastal belt known for its rich marine resources. Another unique trademark in the Catholic dominated Negombo-Chilaw stretch are the many small settlements, which have interestingly adopted Italian names such as ‘Little Rome’ or ‘Small Venice’, thereby displaying some kind of affinity towards Italy.
It may be recalled that in 2004, a Sri Lankan national handball team decamped while on a tour of Germany, and found their way to Italy. As a result, Sri Lanka and Italy became the focus of international media headlines at the time.
The story of the Lankan sportsmen, who did the vanishing trick in Germany, ultimately was the subject of a movie by Academy award winning filmmaker Umberto Pasolini.
Based on a true story, the film was released overseas under different titles. Millions of film-goers enjoyed the comedy, while the director bagged 19 international awards for the outstanding celluloid masterpiece. Sri Lanka also had its own version of the film titled ‘Machan’.
However, young Sheron Silva firmly believed that finding “shortcuts” was not the answer to his ambitious plans of settling down in Europe. It had to be achieved the hard way, legally. Germany was a country so close to his heart as he worked for a German-based NGO ‘Peace Village Sri Lanka’ at Nattandiya.
His job involved interaction with German university students who came to study the rich history and culture of Sri Lanka. He was impressed with German culture and the clockwork precision with which Germans managed their professional lives. He admired their punctuality, time-management, commitment and dedication.
Through his interaction, he realized that the key to unlocking his dreams was to learn the German language, which was not a cake walk. It was a tough proposition. But, Sheron, by nature, was a “never say die” warrior. He set aside a part of his salary to enroll for classes at the German Cultural Institute.
His mentor, Dr. Dietmar Doering, described Sheron as an enterprising young man, who “took the bull by the horns” to achieve what many others would have given up as virtually “impossible”. Sheron emerged as a brilliant student and completed levels A1, A2, B1 and B2 of the German language course with ease. With proven skills, he was appointed a German language teacher in the NGO he worked for.
Sheron’s longing to visit Germany was deeply etched in his heart and he eagerly looked forward to the day he could set foot on the country he cherished. Finding a legal way to take wing, and being recognized as a law abiding visitor, was the only option he was willing to consider. Many were the unfortunate incidents, where illegal migrants had even lost their lives.
The most promising chance to secure a legal visa was to find German Au Pair parents who were agreeable to their children being looked after by a ‘helper’ from a foreign country. A family with two small children responded to Sheron’s application channeled through an international Au Pair Agency. With the contract in hand, he visited the German Embassy and secured a one-year Au Pair visa.
The time spent with the German family, where both husband and wife were busy professors, was challenging. Sheron had to drop and pick up the two children from school, attend to their homework and extra classes, and in addition, also double up as the family’s housekeeper, cook, gardener and run errands at times. With a little money saved, he knew that he had to move on to achieve his target in life.
Germany, though nice, cozy and well organized, is hard and cold for anyone without money. When he was in Sri Lanka, Sheron had known a friendly German couple, Uschi und Wilfried Bruchhausen. He had driven them to show the natural beauty of Sri Lanka during their holidays. As the couple was impressed about his disciplined driving, they booked him for all the tours in Sri Lanka.
Apart from his driving skills, they appreciated his fluency in German as they were unable to converse in English. During his stay in Germany, Uschi and Wilfred visited Sheron and took him to their home in Duisburg over the weekends. They supported him financially as well.
When his tenure as an Au Pair ended, the adventure began when he decided to visit Berlin, the multi-cultural capital of Germany, with a great history and many nationalities living there. He arrived in Berlin with the idea of staying for a couple of weeks to get a start-up, but his plans fell apart. He didn’t know where to go.
In Berlin, there were only a few alternatives for homeless people. A few social institutions accommodated the homeless on a day-to-day basis. The other options were railway stations and churches. Sheron had his backpack with a sleeping mat inside and he decided to spend the first night in a church. No one else was there, no priest or any living soul around. It was his first sleepless night, with many others to follow.
With the little money left, he had to look after his daily needs, and in Berlin nothing came cheap. The cash Uschi and Wilfried gave him was fast running out and a torrid time was ahead of him, unless the young man found a job. He visited many restaurants, pubs and supermarkets and offered his services even as a part-time worker.
However, as German Labor law is unforgiving and only with a legal work permit that a company can employ a foreigner, all efforts seemed to be in vain. A Syrian asylum-seeker advised Sheron to try out an internet platform offering home jobs. With a mere 2 Euros (SLR 400) in hand, Sheron launched an online search at an Internet Café.
The clock was ticking and with 1.20 Euros left to continue surfing the net, he suddenly came across a job opportunity; a disabled German man was looking for a caregiver on a 24-hour basis. While writing the address, the credit line went down to 0.60 Euros and with the last 0.20 Euros, Sheron was able to write down the postal address of the patient.
Without any money left, he had no way of using the Berlin public transport for the 16km journey. The only option was to walk to the destination. When Sheron found the house and rang the bell, a man on a wheelchair opened the door with the words “Hi, Colombo, welcome to my home!”
The German man lived quite an unusual life; he worked as a self-employed person from 5.00 am daily and needed physical assistance in different ways from time to time. The caregiver had to adjust his own timings based on the needs of the patient.
Apart from this, the dog had to be taken out for a daily walk. However, Sheron’s dream of making a living in Germany never faded. During his free time, he attended advanced German language courses to complete C1 and C2 and also seminars on company start-ups. The next big hurdle was to secure a visa extension.
He visited the relevant authority and a very senior officer interviewed him. When he told her that he wanted to start a company in Germany, she told him bluntly, “we don’t need Sri Lankans to come to Germany to open companies”. His request for a visa extension collapsed.
In his customary “never give up” mode, Sheron visited the Visa Authority for a second time. The young immigration officer, who interviewed him this time, was highly impressed with the outstanding German language skills of the applicant and gave a positive prognosis. Sheron had a fair chance of settling down in Germany simply because of his excellent command of the German language.
With the renewed German visa in hand, his search for a stable job assumed a new dimension. He visited a German supermarket chain and offered his services as a maintenance and facility management service company. Sheron was the only employee cum boss of the ‘company’, which did not exist at the time.
Luck was on his side. The supermarket owner agreed to give him the task of cleaning the premises from midnight to 4 o’clock the following morning. With no helpers or professional cleaning equipment, he started with a mop, soap and detergents and worked hard on the job.
After some weeks, the owner was happy with the performance of Sheron’s one-man ‘’. As it was a job well done, the enterprising young Lankan was asked whether he can take up another 10 supermarkets on the same contract basis. Without hesitating, Sheron agreed. He knew that he couldn’t do it alone; he had to recruit ‘helpers’ for the job. The non-existing ‘company’ was finally becoming a reality.
Sheron floated a company PULLITEC Pvt. Ltd., and recruited some workers, initially some Polish nationals and later a few Sri Lankans, and the company kept growing. Amidst more business links established with many other supermarkets, an African Embassy also contacted Sheron’s company to seek utility management services.
With new vistas opening up, Sheron’s company diversified into other commercial spheres in maintaining gardens, cleaning offices and facilities in more than 50 Embassies in Berlin.
The Sri Lankan with a vision and mission, who spent his first night in a Berlin church without a morsel of food, has now become a successful entrepreneur, with 25 Germans working for his company.
Sheron Silva’s ascension to the top is an inspiration to Sri Lankan youth aspiring to carve out a productive life and a new beginning in a European country. He has amply proven that through sheer hard work and a ‘never give up’ mentality, success is within reach, even in environments that are most challenging.