The Sunday Leader

Sri Lanka Is Ripe For Reconciliation

Chrishanthi Christopher

Jayantha Dhanapala, Dr Selvy Tiruchandran and Mrs. Jezima Ismail

Sri Lanka is ripe for reconciliation and the opportunity for a better future is in the hands of  the youth of this country. They need to be told a different story from the one that has become so entrenched in the minds of the older generations, says  Sri Lanka Unites (SLU), a reconciliation movement lead by a core team of young professionals drawn from all ethnic religious backgrounds.
The group says old stereotypes must be shed and a new spirit of cooperation and understanding must be forged ahead in order to achieve permanent reconciliation among the ethnic groups of this country.
The SLU will have its fourth annual flagship conference at the Vaddukoddai Jaffna College and will bring 500 youth leaders between the ages of 15 to 18 from 100 schools across Sri Lanka. The youth are to be mentored by 100 local and international university student volunteers for four days commencing today.
Former Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala who was present at the conference said that the fact that the conference is held in the north is laudable and that it is a great achievement to bring the Tamil diaspora to the table. “We have reached out to the diaspora who we considered as extremists,” said Dhanapala.
He said that it is noteworthy that movements like these are taking great efforts to bring the different communities together helping people to develop personal bonds across the isle. “Without solely relying on the government for reconciliation we can do a lot at grass root levels,” he said.
Executive director, women’s Education Resource Center, Dr Selvy Tiruchandran said that the older generation had failed in their attempt to bring the communities together. She expressed hope that the SLU would be able to achieve where they had failed. “Be liberal, forget identities, learn each others languages and live peacefully,” she said.
Former Principal of Muslim Ladies College Mrs. Jezima Ismail said that the beauty of Sri Lanka lies in its multi ethnicity and its pluralism. “This should be reinstated,” she said.
In a video message the Nobel Peace Prize winner Jodi Williams said that when the youth of a country get together things can happen.  “For sustainable peace needs life long commitment,” she said.
Student representatives from Kegalle and Ampara who participated at the meeting shared their past  experiences.
Arzath Aarif a student from Kalmunai said that the forum gave him the chance to meet a Sinhala person for the first time in his life. “I have been growing up experiencing a lot of discrimination and I had this notion that all Sinhala people are bad.”
He said that he had to change his mind when he had to share his room with a Sinhala roommate. “Sharing the room and being with them changed my opinion on the Sinhala people,” he said.
Sanjay a student from Ampara describing his experience said that he too was brought up with the idea that Tamil people are bad and that they are responsible for killing soldiers in the south.  But he said that the forum helped him to change his entire outlook and that he realised that the Tamils were not to be blamed and they were innocent and vulnerable like the Sinhala people.
“We went to their schools and found that they study under difficult circumstances with no proper buildings and even without chairs, desks or toilet facilities,” he said.
Sanjay under his initiative had been able to collect monies and help renovate bathroom facilities for a school in the north.
V. Nadesan a diaspora representative from Canada said that in Toronto where he lives that there are over 200,000 Sri Lankans but they mistrust each other. “This is all because of ignorance and the Sri Lanka Unite is a good forum to understand each other and develop that trust,” he said.

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