Monday, November 9, 2015

Heroes to Remember

Here is a picture of a student leader who resides in Mulaithivu, who has been a part of Sri Lanka Unites for over 2 years as a volunteer and now as a staff member. He comes from an ordinary family with enough resources to survive. His life was directly affected by the brutality of war having to live in refugee camps half of his life, with minimum facilities. Family means everything to him, having to be his mom’s favourite son is a privilege according to him. Even though life has settled down with minimum chaos comparing to what it was back then during the war, bitter memories still haunt him every now and then. Beneath this handsome smile in his face there is a glimpse of hurt that cannot be settled overnight. Family that he lost during the war cannot be brought back to life. However, given these challenging circumstances, he strongly believes in his vision of being an agent for change has helped him to realize how important peace is for the country.

Nitharshan has been a key member of the Dream team 5, having the background of personal experience to share about war has been an important learning journey for everyone in the team. His energy and his outgoing personality was an important inclusion for the team to reach out to many communities. As the team went across the island found many leaders like Nitharshan, who were directly affected by war, now having the ability to live a normal-peaceful life.

As the brutalities and the devastation are easily remembered as results of the war, it’s important to recognize our heroes, the ordinary people who survived, having to compromise their livelihood and absorbing so much loss. Like Nitharshan there are many heroes who are true patriots living a meaningful and a peaceful life ensuring that there would be no more war in this country. As we go in this journey of reconciliation, we salute them, the heroes to remember.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Art for Change

‘Peace’ is absence of war, or is it?
Sri Lanka suffered a brutal war for over 3 decades that brought the country’s economy and development to a halt. Sri Lankans were scraping, crawling and fighting for survival but now we have no more war, people happily enjoy the newly born free country.  After six years of no war, yes, it is peaceful, bombs don’t go off in random directions, No more Military check points, no more restrictions to move about. But the real question is whether wounds of the hearts of the people about the past are healed?
At present as we know 'development' is a key objective in the country, people are more focused on earning money and making their children study hard. Thereby the whole country has not really undergone a process to attain true reconciliation. This is why social cohesion is a key subject to make certain that the wounds of the past wouldn’t be reopened.
Sri Lanka Unites’ initiative of visiting schools and conducting leadership workshops is a part of addressing this element of social cohesion through value based leadership.  These workshops consist of understanding war in different perspectives, Leadership development and effective communication. 20 dynamic young leaders representing different parts of the island were chosen to facilitate these workshops, who would share their experiences and their challenges, encouraging students to take action to various social issues.
One of key areas of envisioning their role in society was by painting on the canvass, expressing their views on War and Peace. Few key locations were chosen to present this opportunity to the students, where different interpretations can be compared to understand whether peace is really absence of war.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Dream Team 5 School Relation Tour 2015 - Say No to Discrimination - Day #2

Second day First Phase

The Sri Lanka Unites Dream Team 5 headed to Kandy on the 15th of September immediately after their visit to Kegalle on the previous day. The hill city was a huge opportunity to spread the message of reconciliation with the inspiration of youth from our very strong chapter for Sri Lanka Unites, Trinity College. The support given to us by Trinity College over the years towards our cause has been very generous and encouraging. As every year the school produces young leaders to inspire through leadership, this year there are two exceptional individuals being part of the Dream Team 5. To recognize and honour the long standing relationship with the school the Principal, Mr. Colin Rathnayake was invited to be the chief guest at the Future Leaders’ Conference held this year in St.Thomas Guruthalawa in Badulla District. 

“Trinity is a school which emphasizes on religious and ethnic unity. We will always be one. Even if we die, we will be one.”

-Mr. Colin Rathnayake 

The workshop hosted six other schools in the region along with students of Trinity, which gave the team immense exposure to reach out to spread the message. The workshop was based on value based leadership which was brought about through group activities, talks and forum theatre. During the activities, the students had to take leadership in critical situations and work as a group towards a common motive to be successful at the end.

At first breaking the ice was a challenge as the students weren’t familiar with each-others’ present, as they naturally found it awkward to stand next to or hold hands with a student of another ethnicity or another school, but at the end of the workshop the results were remarkable as they were making easy conversation with each other.

The drama - forum theatre created an amazing response in the audience, as students kept running onto stage to change the outcome through interventions even before the conclusion of the first run through. The situation we showcased had a Muslim girl being oppressed in a university by a Sinhalese individuals surrounded by many onlookers. Mainly the insults were made for the way she looked and the overall muslim identity. The moment when the deal was sealed was when two Muslim girls (one girl wearing a niqaab) chose to defend the victim in a scene of the play. This gave everybody the signal that the message had come across, and that reconciliation will not be ignored by the youth in times of conflict.  

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Dream Team 5 School Relation Tour 2015 - SL for Peace - Day #1

First Day First Phase

Sri Lanka Unites Dream team tour Begins with a fully pumped up and an enthusiastic Team looking into the opportunity of reaching out to the youth in Kegalle District. Like every year, this years' Dream team 5 also consists of young talented and exceptional leaders representing the districts of Colombo, Matara, Jaffna, Mulaithivu, Kandy, Ampara, Badulla and Puttalam.

Schools in Kegalle have always been strong supporters of Peace, championing the message of reconciliation since the first Future Leaders' conference in 2009.Thereby it presented an opportunity for SLU to begin the tour with a good 'kick' start.

The day started early, with a school Assembly at Royal International School Kegalle, addressing the senior school. The agile and receptive crowd received an introduction to SLU and its departments with the motivation it requires to initiate the Champions of Change project proceedings this year.
The director of the school Dr. Newton Peiris commended the efforts of the team and congratulated them on Job well done giving the team the energy required to continue the day  with some extra boost.

Second session started soon after with Kegalle Vidyalaya, where the school hosted 6 more schools on a workshop for Peace and social cohesion where the Dream Team 5 did a solid job to convey the message. For the purpose of drafting a successful workshop the team used various methodologies to keep the sessions more interactive and engaging. Some of the effective methods were experiential learning activities and Forum theatre. The Forum theater, with no surprises, was considered to be the most effective and popular session encouraging youth to take action on social injustices concerning racism and discrimination.

With positive feedback and upbeat motivation the team now travels to Kandy to inspire the youth in Kandy to promote sustainable Peace for Sri Lanka, which will only be a dream without our youth of the country.
Day 1 - Workshop at Kegalle Vidyalaya 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Moments that's taught me Lifelong Lessons

By Nabeel Marzook (FLC 7 Student),

Even though I was not directly affected by the 30 years of brutal war, I was deeply disturbed by the young lives lost, the destruction and the ethnic division and also it was very disappointing to see some extremist groups sowing the seeds of racism in the recent past. I always wished things would change and some day we would be able to live in a united Sri Lanka. I always wondered how beautiful It would be if we were together as one and I was passionate to make a change, to give my fullest effort to make a difference. When I came to know about Sri Lanka unites and all the amazing work they have been doing I have no word to explain how I felt.

I felt some sort of energy spring within me to know that there are hundreds of youth like me who have the same passion to make a change. Since then, I was looking for an opportunity to be a part of Sri Lanka Unites events and I got the opportunity through Future Leaders Conference Season7. When I went to the conference, it seemed like a whole new world to me. It was an amazing sight to see youth from various parts of the island with different social and ethnic backgrounds together as one. At the conference I witnessed how much of a manpower and enthusiasm and passion we have, to make a change.

At the conference we were divided into teams and my team was “Anuradhapura Avengers”. We had 18 members in our team from different parts of the country with different backgrounds. It was amazing to see how beautifully we blended together, despite our differences and that was because we dared to unite, we wanted to make up the mistakes made in the past. We became one big family within few days. Through the conference, I had the opportunity to meet a lot of inspiring people; in fact I learnt something from every person I met during the conference. I had the opportunity to talk to many Sinhalese and Tamil friends and learn things that I didn’t know about their culture, I learnt why Tamils apply vibhuti (Holy ash), I learnt about their foods and festivals, even though I could speak Sinhala fluently I didn’t know much Sinhala in the past. My Sinhalese friends helped me learn the Sinhala. Some of the Sinhalese students in our team were curious as to why Muslims wore caps and asked me if they could wear it once and I told them it’s perfectly fine for them to wear it and all these small things like this greatly helped us mutually understand each other and to clear the misunderstandings we had. I must mention about our mentors, we had four super cool mentors Kavindya, Archana, Sudeera and Aadhil. To begin with Kavindi akki, she is a kickass person, a great sport and an interesting person to hang around with. Sudeera aiyya, he’s very inspiring, experienced and a person who always motivates us. Archana akki is a calm cool and composed person, she’s someone you can’t stop loving, and Aadhil is a person with high spirits who would go any heights to make the team win. The SLU team was just amazing, they were a cool crew and their works are unbelievable, their unity and their spirit always motivated us. It was a privilege to work with all these wonderful people.

Each and every session, the icebreakers, and the activities instilled so many values within us. The guest speakers were enlightening, the interactive sessions were interesting and the entertainment sessions were at its best! The ice breakers helped us get to know each other and activities like the human bingo, question web, two truths and one lie etc. Challenging activities such as trust fall, reach the globe and blind maze built trust, helped us communicate our ideas and strengthened the bond among us. We had many interactive sessions and one of them was the one in which we were asked to list out the grievances faced by the other communities, it was an opportunity for me to let the other communities know that I cared for them and I also learnt that they too cared for the grievances that my community faced. The above mentioned are few of the activities we did and there were so many other activities which helped us brake the barriers we had. The conference kept us busy all day and now when I recall the memories, I think we have managed to do a lot of work at a stretch with any difficulty, which I would have thought impossible if not for the conference.  That’s the spirit we had.
I would say I’ve never had so much fun in all my life. We screamed out whenever we had the chance shout out for our team and we were barely able speak towards the end of the conference. I can never forget my team’s chant and our crazy dance “Umbalakada, Wattakka, Kekiri, Dodan”. We were always together and we were there for each other. It was heavenly to feel, breathe and live in the Lankan spirit and I’m always grateful to SLU for those wonderful moments which gave me goosebumps, brought tears and the moments which united us will forever stay in my memories. The last day was very emotional. The thought of having to say good bye to the conference as a whole kept popping in my head the whole day and finally the moment came and I had bid good bye to my amazing team and that’s when I realized how much we will be missing each other, how strong our bonds have grown, how much each and every one of them mattered to me. Every one broke into tears when we had to say good bye, but we made a promise that we will always remain a family and I remember every single word each and every one of us said, that moment was special.

Altogether FLC7 was a life changing experience that taught me lifelong lessons and brought me lifelong friends. We understood how much of losses we could have avoided had we been united and pledged that we will never let history repeat itself again. And my sincere thanks to Team SLU for their effort and amazing work. I hope and pray that every youth of our nation get the privilege to attend this conference.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Until We Meet Again

By Mohamed Inshaf,

I always wanted to be part of a social service organization. Honestly, I had no clue where to go to find one. Nevertheless, I found a great opportunity to be a part of Future Leaders Conference 2015 organized by Sri Lanka Unites. It was my first ever involvement in their flagship event. I would like to start with Team SLU; they were filled with enthusiasm towards this program. Every single one of them are so friendly and I never felt that I was amongst a set of strangers.  Insights I collected in the mentors program was a major pillar of my FLC-7 journey. I was personally motivated by seeing the SLU members’ commitment towards the success of this program.

I was told by many SLU members that this is going to be an amazing experience. In my own words I’d say it was definitely a life changing experience!
On the first day I was given 14 students who represented different districts across the country, also with an amazing group of co-mentors. Our objective was to simply make them to be good friends despite the background of their respective school or district or religion they belonged to or many other innate differences. Then, all of a sudden a question popped up in my mind “How are we gonna do this in just 5 days?”

Well, I got the answer by very next day evening. It just took 1 day to put them all towards aone common goal. We gathered to put all our differences aside and started working together. The ice breaking and team building activities were perfect. All those activities were very effective and I saw how we gained momentum and the progress was significant to witness the team bonding. The leadership building and reconciliation session were spectacular. The learning curve was massive. I personally believe it must have successfully pitched into all students mind and hearts.

So far it was all about the program and now I would like to write few words about learnings and experience.  I personally learnt about how to bring a set of unknown people together.  I learnt the way of I should speak, react and answering to their questions. We came together and spoke about many incidents that happened in our lives. Some students had terrible pasts when we spoke about war. Some students had wrong opinion on other ethnicities. Some students did not even like associating certain ethnicities, even to the extent of despising them.

One major point that I acknowledged to them as the reasons, were misguidance, miscommunication and lack of exposure of other ethnicities. We sat and spoke about all these matters and once we were done,we all were on the same page.  Students started respecting, listening and helping each other, like children of one mother – we bonded like one family. It was an emotional sight for me. At that same moment I took to step back to imagine how beautiful it would be if the whole nation becomes like this. Driven with passion, I made some great friends across all over the country. And I firmly believe, that also is one of the greatest gifts I seized through this program.

Then we came to the last day, it was an emotional one for me and most of my peers. Our Only wish on that day was another day at the conference! We screamed and pleaded but to no avail.

It was so strange to be with a team of unknown students on the first day and how hard it was to say good bye at the end since we became such good friends-family. Due to some unavoidable circumstances we had to conclude FLC -7 one day prior and I am pretty sure everyone would not have expected that to happen. In last couple of hours I think all were in the peak of their emotional states. Students started to share their thoughts for one last time. The autographs they wrote, statements they made, a lot of unspoken words, Tears they shed and this amazing bond will always be a clear picture in my mind. Every goodbye was so hard for me because I didn’t want to let the team go as I was their big brother.

All together it was package of overwhelming knowledge, life changing experience, lot of new friends and mesmerizing moments that will last a lifetime. I am very glad that I was part of Future Leaders Conference 7, 2015. I stepped into this program to change and inspire others, and I did!also the conference itself changed me see life in a different perspective a good one I may add. I loved the way it flowed. I’ll always cherish each moment that I spent in the St. Thomas’ College, Guruthalawa.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

My Experience with SHOW You Care

As I work on the table I have claimed in my office, I feel the cool breeze from the fan up above and the gentle wind from the recent rain shower. My steaming cup of Dilmah tea soothes and refreshes me as I work on my projects. The SHOW You Care event is this coming Saturday, and I feel the excitement build as the team works towards this long-awaited day. Participants start to confirm their attendance and announcements and reminders about the event flow from everyone’s lips. SHOW You Care team members continue to swamp Facebook with posts, pictures, liking, commenting, and then sharing them to all their friend groups.

I have been living on Sri Lanka’s resplendent island for the past four weeks, and am so grateful for the love, hospitality, and safety that I have felt here. But this is not the case for all young women in Sri Lanka. Since I am an American nineteen-year-old, sometimes it seems as if I am a little girl who needs to be babysat and who is not allowed to go anywhere alone. I understand that my hosts are rightfully cautious and want to make sure I stay safe, but I also understand that not all young women in Sri Lanka have that security.
Working on the SHOW You Care campaign has enabled me to learn about a prevalent difficulty that most Sri Lankan women endure: sexual harassment on public transportation. The most eye opening experience that I have had while working on this campaign has been creating a video testimonial over the past couple of weeks. One morning I interviewed several young women who have experienced sexual harassment on public spaces. These women shared very personal stories about their encounters with harassment, and how those made them feel degraded and undervalued. While the extent of my bothersome experiences with men here has been limited to incessant stares from men as I drive through Colombo, as a young woman my heart aches for the countless women who experience extreme harassment.

SHOW You Care is a setting where issues related to gender based violence can be addressed in an open forum. SHOW You Care is also a place where men themselves can take the lead in stopping the harassment and stepping in to protect women. I am so grateful to be a part of SHOW You Care, and am looking forward to a future where women can feel safe in Colombo. 

Laura Nagel
(Intern for Sri Lanka Unites)