Friday, November 18, 2011

Our Final Stop: Puttalam

By Ayesh Perera

The fact that Puttalam was the final district on our road tour filled us with a great sense of passion to bring the tour to a flourishing finish. 
The grand welcome recieved by us at Zahira College, Puttalam was self-evidently far beyond our expectations. Furthermore, we could feel the sense of anticipation present amidst the students of Zahira College, right through out the assembly. Following the assembly was our final workshop which was also at Zahira College and was attended by a large number of students from the area. Almost all of them made a decision towards the cause of reconciliation and rebuilding Sri Lanka through their individual ambitions, making it crystal clear that that which binds us together is far stronger than that which drives us apart.
Whilst the smooth flowing of all the scheduled work was indeed a great success the fun behind the scenes should not be passed by.The songs composed both on reconciliation and other themes were simply fascinating. The 17th of November the final day of the road trip was both a day of reflection and celebrations, as it was also the birthday of our beloved leader.

At the Island Paradise of Mannar

By Ayesh Perera

Arriving in Mannar, a place of exquisite beauty inspite of its heat, in the crack of the dawn on Tuesday the 15th of November after travelling overnight, we had before us the task of visiting several schools, namely St.Xavier's Boys' College, Nanattan Madya Maha Vidyalaya, St. Anne's MMV, Sithinnayagar Hindu College and Adampan MV. In all of these schools we found ourselves and  the concept of Sri Lanka Unites in a warm and receptive environment, and it was a message of hope to many. Moreover, it was also quite suprising to sense the knowledge about Sri Lanka Unites which was there in the atmosphere, which was undoubtedly due to the tireless efforts of the students of St. Xavier's Boys College.

After the assemblies, at our residence we were treated to an amazing lunch, with a variety of sea food dishes - a welcome change from our usual diet.
Following that was our workshop in Mannar which we were able to conduct at St. Xavier's Boys College, with the permission of their Principal.The extremely positive response we got here from the students from Mannar conveyed the deep unspoken desire they had to see one day a united nation.
After the workshop we had an extensive discussion on intra ethnic conflicts which also included the discussing of solutions, after which we turned ourselves in for the night, before heading out to  Puttalam the next day.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

At The Jaffna Peninsula

by Ayesh Perera

It was daybreak on Friday the12th of November when the Sri Lanka Unites Dream Team arrived in Jaffna, the glorious city of palm trees in the northern end of the pearl of the Indian ocean,destined to be a monumental part of our tour.It needs to be mentioned that the team's visit to Point Pedro on Friday,where each of us once more pledged our allegiance to the cause of Sri Lanka Unites by signing on our mission statement which was bottled and dropped into the blue waters was a milestone.
  Apart from this,was our visits to schools in Jaffna amongst which were both Christian and Hindu institutions.Nonetheless, in each one of these our message of hope and reconciliation found itself in a receptive environment which was testified to by the level of interest showed by the students.
Furthermore,the workshop which was attended by a significant number of students from the Jaffna district in whose hearts new seeds of hope and passion were planted was indeed a success.
Last but not least,chilling out in the Cashurina beach savouring the sight of the golden Jaffna skies with the sun sinking down to rest which added much glamour to all our work in Jaffna after which we headed to mannar should never be forgotten.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Rich Red Soil of Kilinochchi

The soil that covered the roads in Kilinochchi is definitely one captivating aspect of the district - a deep red soil, which is said to be due to the large amounts of aluminium in it. Our team had to split up, and while most of the team were in Mullaitivu, a small team of three, including myself visited Kilinochchi.

Kilinochchi Central College was the only school that had attended Future Leaders' Conference from the Kilinochchi district. So we first went to this school and conducted a small assembly with a few of the activities that we normally do at a workshop. We did not get much time, as they were also organizing their Christmas celebrations on that day.

Following that we also visited two other schools including Kilinochchi Hindu College, where we introduced Sri Lanka Unites with the help of the introductory packs. Hopefully, next Future Leaders' Conference will see more schools participating from this district.

At Christin's Place: Vavuniya

Following Anuradhapura, we arrived at Vavuniya where we spent three days, out of which two days were completely dedicated to resting and reviving ourselves and also completing the tasks each of us were assigned. For the first time in the whole tour, we stayed at our residence - the house of Christin Rajah, our Vice President, without any sightseeing. We enjoyed the time we spent there, playing cricket, watching movies and also learning more about Conflict Transformation. We were also able to listen to the views of Christin, which complemented what we were already learning.

And we also had an opportunity to cook our own dinner, which was truly a relief after some bad experiences we had eating outside.  We also had an opportunity to do more laundry and to prepare ourselves for the last stretch of our journey.

On the second day we went to Kanaganayagam Maha Vidyalam, in Vavuniya where we conducted an assembly. And later a few of us met with student leaders from schools in Vavuniya and spoke about Sri Lanka Unites with them.

Overall, the time we spent at Vavuniya was really effective in getting us prepared for the rest of the tour and also in expanding our roots in Vavuniya.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Murungahetikanda Maha Vidyalaya – Anuradhapura

On the 8th of November, we arrived at Kekirawa, belonging to the Anuradhapura district. Here we visited the Murungahetikanda Maha Vidyalaya, which was the only school that attended the conference from the district.  Here we spent time with the students conducting an assembly followed by a workshop. The response we received was good, and even the younger students in the school showed immense interest and participated actively in all the activities.

However, we were also able to witness the level of poverty they lived in. The uniforms with patches, tattered socks and broken shoes were a sight that touched many of our hearts, allowing us to realize the privileges that we have which we don’t always think about. As a school in a district that once hailed as the country’s first ever capital, I think they deserve at least a fraction of the resources that most of urban Sri Lanka enjoys. But what was really impressive is, even under those conditions, these students cheerfully utilized the little they have to do the best they could.

We all returned from Murungahetikanda Maha Vidyalaya, saddened by their poverty yet inspired by their talents and skills, and encouraged by their cheerfulness. There is definitely a lot we could learn from them.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Taking a Break to see the Sunrise - Trincomalee

Following Polonnaruwa we arrived at Trincomalee on the 4th of November. We resided at the Department of Industries Hostel for three days, during which time we took some time out to complete our individual tasks and also to restore our energy for the rest of the tour.

We visited Nilaweli Beach, Marble Beach and also witnessed the sunrise. We had fun sea bathing and playing cricket at the beach. It was truly a break that we all needed and deserved. We were also able to do some teambuilding activities, learning the deeper concepts of Conflict Transformation. We looked into how conflicts can arise even by ignoring subtle acts of bias, which in turn can lead to stereotypes, prejudices and finally end up in outright discrimination.

On the 7th of November, we visited Vennasampura Maha Vidyalaya in Kanthale, where we conducted an assembly followed by a workshop. Even though it was a government holiday, the school administration organized the assembly and workshop just for us, which showed a lot of commitment on their part. Rajagala Vidyalaya and Seevaly Vidyalaya were two other school that attended the workshop.
We also able to make our first Champions of Change connection for the road trip, between Vennasampura Maha Vidyalaya and Elizabeth Moir International School, Colombo. We hope that these two schools will work together, overcoming class barriers, regional biases and show to the world that Sri Lanka is ready to stand up united, moving away from a culture of divisiveness towards a reconciled nation.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Polonnaruwa – City of Ancient Kings

After arriving at Polonnaruwa on the 4th of November, we went directly to Giritalegama Vidyalaya, where we conducted an assembly. Following this we also visited Bendiwewa Central College. After that, we brought some of the students from there back to Giritalegama Vidyalaya where we conducted workshop. We received a response was positive as always, and we believe that these two schools will take a leadership in expanding our base in Polonnaruwa.

Polonnaruwa, being a district where many ancient kings governed this island, is a very important part of the identity of this country. It was indeed a great pride and joy for us to be able to reach out to the younger generation of this district, and shape them for being leaders in a reconciled Sri Lanka.

Batticaloa – Land of Scenic Beauty

We arrived at Batticaloa on the 2nd of November, in the night and were hosted at Sarvodaya Campsite. We were all exhausted and in need of a good night’s sleep, and so retired to bed immediately.

The next day, we divided into two groups, one heading to North of Batticaloa and the other to the South. The team that headed north visited Vakarai Maha Vidyalayam, Palchenai Madhya Maha Vidyalayam and Kathiraveli Kannaki MahaVidyalayam while the team that head south visited Al-Hira Mahavidyalayam and Eruvil Kannakipuram Maha Vidyalayam. This enable us to cover many school within a limited time period.

Later in the day, a workshop was planned at Marken Marker school, but due to some misunderstanding with the Zonal Director the workshop was called off. However, we had a smaller workshop at Sarvodaya Campsite for the students who had come from the south of Batticaloa for the workshop.

Two aspects of Batticaloa that amazed us were the scenic beauty of the district and also the level of development in the region, in terms of its roads and some of the schools. We departed the next day, sure that we had left our mark in this district which had been one of the hardest to get through to.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Our Arrival at the East Coast

Ampara was the first district we arrived at in the Eastern Province.  Our accommodation was taken care of by Arzath and Ashfaque, two members on the Road Trip who are from Ampara. We arrived there on the 1st of November, in the night.  We heard that due to the rain, some of the roads in the district had been flooded, but regardless we made plans for the next day hoping for the best.
The next day, the weather conditions proved favourable, and we managed to visit two schools and conduct assemblies there. At Akkaraipattu Central College, the Principal was very interested in the cause and also attended the workshop we held later in the day. We also visited Bandaranayake Balika Vidyalaya, which was one of the few Sinhala schools in the district. 

Later in the day, we had a workshop at Zahira College, Kalmunai which is the Alma Mater of our members from Ampara. The fact that the boys of Zahira College had mopped up the entire place after the flood, just so that we could conduct the workshop was very touching and encouraging. The workshop had a very good attendance, and was an immense success.
There were some interesting aspects about the workshop, out of which the most noteworthy one was the participation of a Muslim Girls schools, namely Al-Marjan Muslim Ladies College. Coming from a very conservative background, it was a very pleasing sight to see the Muslim girls come forward to answer questions and to get involved in the Forum Theatre. We did make some alterations to our normal Forum Theatre and Workshop Games, to make it easy for them to identify with and also to put them at ease. These changes worked out well in most cases, which contributed greatly to the success of the workshop.

The Road Trip definitely helped expand our roots in Ampara, and we can expect much more involvement from this district in the future.


A Day at Rajakeeya Vidyalaya - Monaragala

We arrived at Monaragala on the 1st of November. Rajakeeya Vidyalaya was the only school from Monaragala that had attended the conference. Just as the name of the school suggests, we got a very royal welcome, with two dance performances from the students of their school. We initially conducted an assembly, which was followed by a workshop. Mo/Mahanama Central College, Vidyaloka Maha Vidyalaya and Dombagahawela Central College were some other schools that attended the workshop.

We had a good feedback from the participants after the workshop, and we believe that next year’s FLC will have more than one school participating from Monaragala. Monaragala and Badulla are two districts where we were able to really expand our scope of influence as a result of this road trip.
We finished the day by having a late lunch at one of the students’ place. Later, on our way to Ampara we also paid a short visit to another student’s home. The warm welcome and the response we received at Monaragala allowed us to leave the district confident that SLU has a long future there.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Chilling at Badulla

We arrived at Badulla on the morn of Saturday, the 29th of October after being warned against travelling the night before due to bad weather conditions. The whole of Saturday was dedicated to team building and also looking into some very important logistics which involved washing our clothes! We had further discussions on the intra-ethnic conflicts and problems.

The next day, we all went to Dunhinda Falls, which is one of the most enchanting waterfalls in Sri Lanka. It was a long climb up, but it was worth all the calories that were burnt in the process. It was at Dunhinda Falls that we came up with the idea for a funny video channel on youtube. You will be able to follow that soon.

The next day, we started work again. We initially went to Uva Central College, which was the only school from Badulla that had attended the conference. After the completion of this assembly, we decided to expand our spectrum to include the Tamil and Muslim schools in the region too. So, we split up into 3 groups and visited some of the schools in the district. We took with us an introductory pack, which gave a comprehensive idea of Sri Lanka Unites, our mandate and our vision. Badulla Tamil Vidyalaya, Sarasvathy Vidyalaya, and Al Adhan Maha Vidyalaya are a few of the schools we visited.

That evening, we had a small workshop for the Girls Orphanage next to the Elders' Home where we were residing at Badulla. The workshop went better than we expected. Many of the Girls were very interested, and were involved throughout the workshop. We also made a donation of a few uniform and stationary packs to the girls in the orphanage. Overall, it was a very enjoyable experience.

Following that, we all retired to our rooms after planning to head out to Monaragala the next day morning. We were all rested and ready to take on another busy week. Despite the cold weather in Badulla, we had a great time. We are grateful to the Methodist Elders' Home for hosting us, and facilitating our meals during our stay.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Global Press Institute on Sri Lanka Unites

Youth Lead Reconciliation Efforts in Post-Conflict Sri Lanka | Global Press Institute

Youth Lead Reconciliation Efforts in Post-Conflict Sri Lanka

The influence of this youth-led movement for peace and reconciliation has even spread beyond the shores of this small island nation. SLU chapters have sprung up in cities around the world among the Sri Lankan diaspora. Currently, there are SLU chapters in Melbourne, Australia; Toronto, Canada; and Washington D.C. and Orlando, United States. There are plans to begin chapters soon in Los Angeles, United States; and Wellington, New Zealand.

“Social media was the key to drawing in young people from the widespread Sri Lanka diaspora around the world,” De Visser says. “As they interacted with us on Facebook and through our website, they were inspired to join us in rebuilding one Sri Lanka.”

Dhanapala writes that their participation enhanced this year’s conference.

“The new features of foreign participation representation from the youth of the Sri Lanka diaspora and the TV coverage were excellent additions,” he writes. “The fact that the conference was held in Kandy during the Perahera was also good because it enabled all to share a common festival.”

Many of these chapters plan to organize Future Leader Conferences in their own diaspora communities around the world during the next year, encouraging reconciliation and celebration of the different cultures.

This year’s conference also drew interested observers from India, South Africa, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They have returned home inspired to replicate the concepts they saw in Sri Lanka, De Visser says. Youth leaders in Kenya, for example, are planning to have a Future Leaders Conference next year.

“Kenya’s tribal tensions led to violence in the last elections, and they are very eager to do something before the next elections in 2012 to create a coalition of Kenya Unites that will work to foster reconciliation,” De Visser says.

He says SLU’s community programs have benefited several thousands of people – both the young people implementing them and the Sri Lankans benefiting from them.

Dhanapala writes that the youth movement has even inspired adults like himself.

“I have been inspired myself by the enthusiasm of the members,” he writes.

De Visser says the youth believe that change is up to them.

“We believe that we need to be the change we want to see,” De Visser says. “We can never go back to a time where you just knew someone as a Sinhalese or a Tamil. Now we know their names and faces. We can appreciate a personality. We can judge each other by our character and not by ethnicity or the region we represent. We will not let the hatred of the past control the present and destroy our future.”

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The SUNDAY LEADER speaks of SLU School Relations Tour

Sri Lanka Unites – School Tour | The Sunday Leader

Sri Lanka Unites – School Tour

Sri Lanka Unites is a group of young people changing the country, and they are keeping at it.
After bringing students from all over the island to two youth leadership conferences, they are now on a bus tour of the island. I have been following their videos and stories online and it is really amazing to see.
Some people believe in boycotting Sri Lanka or punishing the government before reconciliation begins, but I don’t think that works. What about the young people that have to wait? For their sake, we have to start right now.
The vital task at hand is not rolling back the war, it is rolling out the future. It is about uniting Sri Lanka in heart and mind. In some circles, however, even talking about this is difficult. Among the diaspora, many people don’t identify as Sri Lankan and the term an identity is surprisingly controversial among the english speaking elite at home. Many do not like the flag, or want the government to make certain moves before they do anything. This, I think, is a minority. A vocal one, but the future doesn’t belong to them. There are many more people putting hope into action.
What is great about Sri Lanka Unites (led by Prashan de Visser) is that it is run by young people reaching young people. Rather than setting prerequisites for peace and documenting what is wrong, they are just going out and making a change. What I have seen through their experience is that the ground reality is actually a lot more hopeful than cynics would have you believe.
What is beautiful about what Sri Lanka Unites is doing is that it is so simple. Difficult and complicated to do, but simple in its final application. Kids are making friends with kids from other parts of the island. Before the war sports and scouts and stuff did this, but it needs a bit of a kick start. It is actually much more effective than any top-down political solution or even political devolution. These are kids making friends with other kids and actually uniting as people, not political parties or voters. Just people.
I was especially encouraged by a young man from Kegalle who said his new Tamil friends visited for local New Year and that they were visiting in December. I was also struck that a young man, Ashan, from Trinity said not only did his mind change, he changed his mother’s mind as well. That is how change generally works, especially change of the heart. From the youth, from the ground, a few young people at a time.
In another example, a young man from Jaffna visited Matara for the first time and was laughing about how he got a rose from a Sinhala girl saying, “I think we have reached the first step for reconciliation”.
This is how change starts and reconciliation begins. It isn’t something the government can dictate or legislate, and it is not something that can devolve from the centre.
The government can certainly get out of the way or do more than it is doing, but reconciliation is ultimately between people on the ground. Rather than lobbying the centre or international bodies, true change makers like Sri Lanka Unites are doing it school by school, town by town, person by person.
Admittedly, a better education system would mix students from within towns and across regions (through sports, etc) better than it does, but civil society can pick up some of the slack. Each young person that groups like Sri Lanka Unites reaches becomes an ambassador to their families, to their communities and to the nation and world at large. They truly are supporting a new generation of leadership.
I for one find this very exciting, and you can actually follow it all without trekking round the country with them. Just ‘like’ Sri Lanka Unites on Facebook (
I think you’ll like what you see.
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