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Future Leaders Conference delegates watch a drama show
By
Anita Amendra
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27 July, 2012

Future Leaders Conference delegates watch a drama show
Future Leaders Conference delegates watch a drama show
Sri Lanka Unites (SLU) is an innovative, youth-led movement, which is bringing reconciliation, healing, change and hope among the diverse communities in the country. It is directly addressing the tragic by-products of a protracted civil war, which has resulted in the loss of many lives and reaped untold misery and suffering. Sri Lanka Unites is bringing together young adults nationwide from all ethnicities for shared activities, workshops, mentoring and annual conferences. Their positive message is rapidly receiving support across generations of Sri Lankans internationally.

Sri Lanka’s demographic composition is vibrant with people from many ethnic and cultural backgrounds including: Sinhalese, Sri Lankan Tamils, Indian Tamils, Moors, Burghers, Malays, Veddas and Kaffirs; and many faiths, including: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. The relationship most damaged by war is between the Sinhala majority and Sri Lankan Tamil minority. Communities developed their own identities, defined on ethnicity, historical memory, language, religion, culture, security fears and ancestral territory. Unity between people was severely undermined by conflict.

Sri Lanka Unites identifies today’s priority as: 'How will the youth engage in reshaping the next decades and give leadership to positive changes that must take place?'

The committee and members are young adults, aged 18-30, working on a largely voluntary basis, from all ethnicities and religions. One pursuit is, 'to motivate young leaders in schools across the country to understand the need for reconciliation in post-war Sri Lanka, and empower them to undertake and give leadership to inter-community reconciliation initiatives in their localities'.

Prashan and Christin - the founders of Sri Lanka Unites
Prashan and Christin - the founders of Sri Lanka Unites
What inspired this initiative to foster positive relationships between youths from different ethnic backgrounds in Sri Lanka? The story begins with a friendship between two young Sri Lankans, a Tamil Kirubakaran Christin Rajah and a neighbour of Burgher-Sinhalese origin Prashan De Visser. Prashan describes his remarkable journey as one arising from seeds of animosity and mistrust of the Tamil community. Born into a Sri Lanka ravaged by conflict he, like many young people, observed the horrors of war through media and social narrative. As a teenager, Christin’s father sent him to Colombo to escape the violence he witnessed in the North. The boys met, discovering they shared common interests: united by music, cricket and faith. They realised their common humanity, appreciation of their diversity and mutual respect while developing their friendship.

Christin invited Prashan to visit his hometown of Vauvniya in northern Sri Lanka. The boys worked with children, where Prashan was impressed by a young Tamil boy who showed promise. He determined that this young boy should be supported and educated, while also learning that he was a cadre of a Tamil separatist group; however, above all, he was a human being. Subsequently, Christin and Prashan were on the road towards healing the bitter divisions of a fractured nation and that path inspired their hope: 'We will not let the hatred of the past control the present and destroy our future'.

SLU’s upcoming events include: a Sri Lanka Road Trip visiting schools nationwide, Champions of Change 2012, and the Fourth Annual Future Leaders Conference, 27-31 August  2012, the 'flagship event' bringing together youths from across the country. This year’s leadership conference is in Jaffna, the heart of conflict in the North, and is the first initiative of its kind regionally. Over 500 student-leaders will voluntarily mentor young people from over a hundred schools nationwide. SLU are currently collecting funds to assist children from the poorest schools to attend: it costs 10,000 rupees (£50) to sponsor a child to attend the five-day conference.

Most recently in Colombo, SLU undertook a unique project, Stop Harassment of Women (S.H.O.W.). Students, mostly male, boarded bus routes addressing passengers in three languages (Tamil, Sinhala and English) apologising to women for harassment, distributing leaflets and informing people about women’s rights and men’s responsibilities.

Future Leaders Conference: SLU team members, including international volunteers (Photo: Unknown)
Future Leaders Conference: SLU team members, including international volunteers (Photo: Unknown)
SLU is a non-political initiative exemplifying that reconciliation between the most divided ethnic groups can branch. Following the Sri Lanka teams’ footsteps, partner groups among Sri Lankan youth diaspora are growing internationally and lending support to make a sustainable positive change within Sri Lankan communities both in Sri Lanka and abroad. Young Sri Lankans from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, USA, South Africa, India, Kenya, and Congo are operating partner SLU initiatives. The SLU model is also being replicated in several African countries by young Africans.

Initiative of Change UK will be hosting a Sri Lanka Unites Greencoat Place Forum in London on 2 August 2012 at 18.30 – 20.30. For further information or to reserve a place email here.

Anita Amendra
Project Manager, Sustainable Communities, Initiatives of Change

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