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Monday, September 9, 2019

No to Hate and Violence #NeverAgain

Marking 10 years since the end of the war and 6 months since the Easter Attacks Sri Lanka Unites would like to host a national memorialization and collective pledge titled #NeverAgain. This event will bring together youth from all 25 districts embodying the aspirations of a new generation of Sri Lankans.


Sri Lanka Unites is a grassroots movement that has been in operation since 2007, engaging with over one million youth and active in 25 districts of the country, with over 25,000 members, over 1000 volunteers and 9 reconciliation centers. The event will promote an inclusive Sri Lankan identity and break the cycles of violence and circles of hate. We will also collectively mourn the loss of lives and aspire to inculcate a collective identity and resolve as a new generation of Sri Lankans for an inclusive Sri Lankan identity and a non-violent, peaceful, prosperous future.


Why? The Purpose of The Event
·        Awareness about the country’s conflict and cycles of violence
·        Collective Memorialization and Healing
·        Platform to express our commitment to say No to Hate and Violence, #NeverAgain
·        Promoting an inclusive Sri Lankan Identity and our Path Forward

How? The Strategy of the Event
·        National Gathering of Youth and Allies
·        Use of arts - Introducing memorialization and creating awareness on cycles of violence
·        Pledge and Commitment as a new generation of Sri Lankans
·        3 simple proactive steps communities and individuals can take
promote an inclusive identity
intentionally integrating with other communities
counter hate speech and violence.

What? The Components of the Event
Pre-Event
·        Opening the memorial
·     Workshops for young budding artists from across Sri Lanka interested in memorialization and promoting unity through their art
·        Truth Circles (all 3 languages) for sharing grievances and pain
·        Various artistic expressions to create awareness, memorialization and affirm our pledge

Key Performance Indicators How do we gage our success at this event?
·        Numbers attended both physically and online (livestream, use of hashtag, pledge)
·        Media Coverage
·        Viral Content
·        Surveys/ Testimonials
·        A viral documentary of the entire event and a new generations pledge and actions.
·        The Documentary to be featured at film festivals.

Sustained Impact
·        Regional Memorials that value the dignity of all Sri Lankan lives lost
·        More Numbers of Youth making the pledge and living by it
·        A new culture of a collective countering hate speech and violence and promote civility, respect and reconciliation


Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Easter Attack Response Updates


Social Media Volunteer Training - 15th of June, 2019

With the increasing number of hate speech posts on all social media platforms we soon found the need to conduct a training for our best volunteers. On the 15th of June at Hatch Works we brought together 30 volunteers representing all parts of the country for a training. We had participants from Jaffna, Batticaloa, Matara, Puttalam, Badulla and Colombo. With the help of our Easter response partners SLASSCOM, we were able to conduct the training successfully.

We looked at the history of violence in our country and the daunting statistics, followed by one of our own who was trained by Facebook itself sharing her learnings and finally a representative from SLASSCOM sharing about the new Artificial Intelligence software they are launching to help combat hate speech. We had a very interactive session with all the participants contributing with their ideas and questions. 

An introduction to Sri Lanka Unites and the work we do was given by our founder/ president which was then followed by a conversation on the Conflict history of Sri Lanka since independence. Following this discussion another discussion was conducted on the grievances faced by each ethnicity to make the crowd understand that walking in another's shoe is very important for us to understand the pain and grief of another ethnicity.

Following the introduction to conflict timeline of Sri Lanka and the grievances the next session was conducted on Fake News and Hate speech - definitions and examples were shared with volunteers to give an understanding on fake news and hate speech which has been fast spreading on Social Media in Sri Lanka. Also strategies and ideas were shared on identifying fake news, misinformation and hate speech, steps of reporting hate speech and getting the correct URLs of the posts on Facebook were all part of this session. It was concluded with a series of questions and answers between the volunteers and the team.

As the final session we had a representative from SLASSCOM Sri Lanka who spoke about his experience and what more we can do as a collective - while reporting bad content we need to make sure that there is more good content out there and he also urged the volunteers to continue the good work without stopping. The training concluded with distribution of refreshments and a discussion on our next steps.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Sri Lanka Unites - Easter Attack Response Updates



The 21st of April 2019 will go down in our history as one of the most inhumane acts of terrorism inflicted on our people. Taking the lives of almost 250 people and an unaccountable number of families affected it still haunts us up to date. It is safe to say that the whole country was left in disbelief and shock. We as an organization immediately responded with an action plan to help those affected.

Our 10 step Response Plan

1.       COUNSELLING SEMINARS FOR ALL THREE AFFECTED COMMUNITIES
2.       PERSONAL TRAUMA THERAPY FOR SURVIVORS OF THE ATTACK
3.       MEMORIALIZING AND TOMBSTONES FOR VICTIMS 
4.       SPECIALIZED THERAPY SESSIONS FOR CHILDREN IMPACTED BY THESE ATTACKS
5.       SAVINGS ACCOUNT FOR CHILDREN IMPACTED BY THE ATTACKS.
6.       WEBINAR SERIES TO DISCUSS PRESSING CONCERNS OF MODERATES – FEATURING MUSLIM AND CATHOLIC + CHRISTIAN YOUTH LEADERS LIVE ON FACEBOOK 
7.       #togetherwewillovercome ONLINE POSTER CAMPAIGN
8.       ENGAGING WITH MUSLIM SCHOOLS AND MOSQUES TO COUNTER FURTHER RADICALIZATION 
9.       ENGAGING WITH MULTI-RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS TO COUNTER BULLYING
10.    ISLAND WIDE SCHOOL TOUR / CREATE INTER-RELIGIOUS YOUTH COALITIONS

 Responding to our calls for donations we had generous people and organizations believe in the work we do making donations for this cause.

Partner Organizations Meeting – 15th May 2019
With lots of organizations reaching out to us to help or partner with us we were encouraged to know that there are good people who are willing to reach out to those who are hurting. So we organized for a platform where all of them can come to one table to discuss the best way forward. This way we made sure that it was a joint effort and no one was replicating the work the other was doing.


We had representation from Leads, the World Bank, Gudppl, Sumithrayo and a church from the Negombo area. After a successful round of discussion we agreed on a combined response.
  • 21st May - Vigil to remember all lives lost, as close to the venue as possible
  • 15th of June - Training conducted by experts for the social media volunteers on how to counter hate speech better
  • By the 21st of June - Seminar organized informing the community of the trauma/ counselling for adults and children. 
  • 21st of June/ 21st of July - To have the memorial and individual tombstones in place. 
  • 21st of June - Have the information needed in place for the Savings accounts to be opened for the children (or of existing ones).
  • Last two weeks of June - SLU will go to mosques and schools to conduct sessions countering radicalization
  • Training our team to continue to engage with the communities and build long term friendships. 
  • A survey done by volunteers to put together a comprehensive needs assessment document

       

Call for Social Media Volunteers

With us finding repeating posts inciting hate we found ourselves amidst a lot of hate speech proposing violence. As a response to this we called for 1000 volunteers to donate their time in order for us to find more and report the pages and people sharing these posts. We have managed to gather close to 430 volunteers as of now for this cause.
We are also very happy and proud to share that Facebook made us one of their official partners for this cause. Whatever data we gather, when we share it with them and they in return respond to it within 48 hours. We have managed to report multiple pages and people whom they have blocked off their site.

Videos contradicting the hate posts

As it is also important to share positive posts to negate the hate, we have asked the same volunteers to share our content built around conversations exploring topics related to togetherness, reconciliation, refusing violence and many more. We conducted two sessions which included video recordings and facebook live sessions.




One month Memorial – 21st of May

We were successfully able to complete the first step of our plan with organizing 3 memorials in the 3 cities that were attacked. If there is one thing in which our nation has failed it is to remember and honour those who lost their lives. So we made sure it was part of our initiative to organize for a vigil where people from all faiths and ethnicities are able to come and pay their respects with candles and flowers. We wanted to show case our solidarity and mostly to show the families that they are not forgotten nor alone. And that their loved ones will always be in our hearts and memorialised in a way they deserve.






Donation from the Businesses at the Dutch Hospital Precinct – 21st of May

We as a nation are blessed with a business community that refuses to get down and be defeated during trying times. They are not the type to lay off their workers and turn their backs on those who are hurting during the time of a national crisis due to their own financial challenges as businesses.


In fact they dig deeper and support a new generation of leader pursue healing and reconciliation and build a nation that is stronger , more united , peaceful and prosperous for all Sri Lankans.



We at Sri Lanka Unites want to thank these inspiring business leaders for investing in us to inspire the youth of our nation and serve to heal our land.









Meeting with Leads - 30th of May

During our meeting with Leads, they helped us to connect with an organization that will in turn lead us to all the 78 families from the Katuwapitiya church. They shared with us that the families have shown great interest in having tombstones in place for all the loved ones they lost.

This proves that partnering and joining with great organizations truly is the right way to approach the relief efforts, as oppose to our teams also speaking to the same families who are in distraught and going through a painful period in their lives. 



Social Media Volunteer Training - 15th of June, 2019

With the increasing number of hate speech posts on all social media platforms we soon found the need to conduct a training for our best volunteers. On the 15th of June at Hatch Works we brought together 30 volunteers representing all parts of the country for a training. We had participants from Jaffna, Batticaloa, Matara, Puttalam, Badulla and Colombo. With the help of our Easter response partners SLASSCOM, we were able to conduct the training successfully.

We looked at the history of violence in our country and the daunting statistics, followed by one of our own who was trained by Facebook itself sharing her learnings and finally a representative from SLASSCOM sharing about the new Artificial Intelligence software they are launching to help combat hate speech. We had a very interactive session with all the participants contributing with their ideas and questions. 

An introduction to Sri Lanka Unites and the work we do was given by our founder/ president which was then followed by a conversation on the Conflict history of Sri Lanka since independence. Following this discussion another discussion was conducted on the grievances faced by each ethnicity to make the crowd understand that walking in another's shoe is very important for us to understand the pain and grief of another ethnicity.

Following the introduction to conflict timeline of Sri Lanka and the grievances the next session was conducted on Fake News and Hate speech - definitions and examples were shared with volunteers to give an understanding on fake news and hate speech which has been fast spreading on Social Media in Sri Lanka. Also strategies and ideas were shared on identifying fake news, misinformation and hate speech, steps of reporting hate speech and getting the correct URLs of the posts on Facebook were all part of this session. It was concluded with a series of questions and answers between the volunteers and the team.

As the final session we had a representative from SLASSCOM Sri Lanka who spoke about his experience and what more we can do as a collective - while reporting bad content we need to make sure that there is more good content out there and he also urged the volunteers to continue the good work without stopping. The training concluded with distribution of refreshments and a discussion on our next steps.








Donation made to children affected by the Easter Attacks – 3rd of July 2019

We made our first donation to 50 children who were either injured or lost a parent during the unfortunate Easter Attacks in April. We partnered with the social service wing of the Catholic churches, Seth Sarana and the Zion Church in Batticaloa in order to select children who need it the most. We asked them to select 25 children each as they have the better understanding of the congregation in need. Each child will receive Rs. 25,000 which will be deposited to their bank accounts. They can withdraw the fund on their 18th birthday. Both churches are also assisting us with opening bank accounts for children that don’t have one. We are also working towards raising funds to make the same donation to all the children.


Polonnaruwa workshop – 4th July 2019

A workshop on Leadership Training and Reconciliation was successfully held at Royal Central College, Polonnaruwa. There were 150 students from 7 schools from all parts of Polonnaruwa. Kapila Ramayake, Lakmal Sandeepa and Hirushi Wedage went as the facilitators for the program from Sri Lanka Unites.

The workshop was based on leadership, countering hate speech and reconciliation. We first conducted a lecture accompanied with team activities in order to give a better understanding of these topics. The program started with leadership training and then we divided the students into 3 groups and did some activities like Reach the Globe. Followed by an introduction to peacebuilding we continued the next session with learning activities like identity game, human knot. The students engaged well when taking part in those activities. With the debrief twe started the lecture on peacebuilding and reconciliation. By doing another activity on how fake news spreads, we started the next session about countering hate speech.

We concluded the program by speaking about Sri Lanka Unites chapters in schools, what we do and gave the students membership forms and the survey to fill out. The Students were truly excited about the program and they all engaged well throughout the day. In the end, the Principal or the school Mr. W. Ravilal talked about the workshop and thanked us for doing this work free of charge in schools. 




Brainstorming Session on countering misinformation and hate speech – 10th July 2019

Around 20 volunteers and intellectuals participated in the session conducted by the Sri Lanka Unites team.  The session started with an introduction to Sri Lanka Unites and the work we do. Then the team members and the participants introduced themselves.  Following the introduction the main themes used by the Buddhist National Extremists and National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ)/ ISIS were analysed and discussed within the group.
The 4 themes used by the Buddhist National Extremists to spread hate and misinformation included Infertility – Population Increase, Islamic Boycott, Sharia Law and Halaal Certification. 4 themes used by the National Thowheed Jamath/ISIS to spread hate and misinformation included, Allah is the only God/ Sri Lanka was a Muslim state, Muslims in Sri Lanka are not holy/religious enough, Violence is endorsed – Jihadist and being part of global movement against terror. A general discussion was held on why people believe and tend to support the extremists ideas. 

Through the discussions and analysis everyone came to a conclusion that there are half-truth in certain themes and the extremists use these and misguide others. So the team discussed the half-truths and came up with counter narratives for the relevant half-truth. The Sri Lanka Unites team also wanted to create Introspection groups within the communities to answer and sort out their own issues within the communities so that we come up with constructive ways to deal with the existing situation. Some suggestions included; doing a content series explaining the theology, exposing that the extremists have used a small loophole for terror and building a broader awareness on collective Sri Lankan Identity.
The session was concluded by making note of the particular skills and areas of expertise within the group, agreeing on the content to be created and setting specific goals with a timeline.

 Anuradhapura School Workshop – 12th July 2019



The 2nd workshop done for schools as a responses to Easter Attack was held at Central College- Anuradhapura. The workshop was conducted under the topic of leadership training and reconciliation.

There were 138 students representing 4 schools from the Anuradhapura district. Kapila Rathnayake, Lakmal Sandeepa and Hirushi Wedage went from the Sri Lanka unites team to facilitate the training program. 

The workshop started with the session focused on leadership and team building. We first did a lecture and some activities to make sure that the students engaged well with the workshop. Following which we focused on the topic reconciliation and peacebuilding, we started the session with experiential learning activities so that the students get a better understanding of the content.

All the students and the teachers engaged well throughout the program and the principal gave us a very positive review. At the end, we gave all the students a survey and the registration forms to fill out while educating them about SLU and the work we do. Many left wanting to be members of the Sri Lanka Unites School club.


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Thursday, May 2, 2019

SRI LANKA UNITES RESPONSE TO EASTER ATTACKS AND COMMUNAL TENSIONS!


Join us as we respond to the Easter Attacks and the communal tensions in Sri Lanka .






You can also donate via 
Cheque written out to “Lanka Unites” posted to
or dropped off at

41 Ridgeway Place
Colombo 4


Or wire a donation directly to our account

Account Name : Lanka Unites
Account Number : 1580032700
Bank : Commercial Bank
Branch : Ward Place
 






Tuesday, February 5, 2019


Reflections on Sri Lanka’s first “Labor Demand Survey of 2017” 
 and its relation to Sri Lanka Unites.

In 2017, the Department of Census and Statistics in Sri Lanka surveyed 3500 companies across the country and its `employers to conduct the first “Labour Demands Survey” in Sri Lanka.

The objectives of the study were
1.     To examine the current employment pattern and recent recruitments and difficulties faced
2.     To Identify the constraints of recruiting employees in filling the vacancies
3.     To quantify the labour demand of the country by estimating the vacancies at present
4.   To quantify the expected recruitments in the next twelve months by major occupation category

As SLU enters the 12th year of operation we are reviewing ways in which we may have contributed to Sri Lanka's economy over time. The 2nd objective was of specific interest to SLU because of our ability to directly influence these statistics. We took a closer look at Chapter 5 of the report titled “Future Hiring and Required Skills”, specifically on the section where the skills and labour needed for the private sector, was also assessed through the survey. 


Teamwork, oral communication and taking initiative were recognized as the top 3 skills which needed the most improvement. According to the figure above, more than one-third of the firms mentioned that the ability of teamwork in is needed for the employees, who were not performing up to standard. Oral communication, taking initiative were the next highly important skills highlighted by the management of the firms which have to be improved among poorly performing employees.


SKILLS NEEDING MOST IMPROVEMENT


  
The relevance of the Labour Demand Survey to 
Sri Lanka Unites.


Sri Lanka Unites has been training young people to be leaders in the country for over a decade. SLU is happy to note that these three skills happen to be the very core of SLU leadership training. Thousands of youth have been trained over the last 11 years.
SLU believes that young people must unite along ethnic and religious lines to bring true transformational change. However, despite the heart to create change, SLU believes young people lack the very basic skills to be the change makers they long to be.
Therefore, with nation-building as the ultimate focus of bringing young people together, “leadership training”, which includes the very skills in demand, is essential. Leadership training also happens to be a core pillar of the organization and it is a mandatory part of training for each and every student/volunteer who walks through the doors of SLU.
The following is a quick summary of how it is done. Activities are conducted at leadership training sessions by SLU staff and senior volunteers, who act as facilitators. These facilitators have all received ample training. Once an activity is conducted, the facilitators de-brief the trainee on the intentions of the activity.



 Teamwork

A number of activities are conducted to teach the following aspects of teamwork

Defining a team
Working along gender/ethnic lines/religious lines 
Understanding the different strengths of each team member
Ability to work towards a common goal
Seeing the possibilities which could be achieved only by working together
Importance of team discussions vs only taking orders
 Respecting opinions of all





Oral communication 

The following dynamics of Oral Communication (and communication at large) are taught through activities

The importance of each individual voice
Importance of seeing the other person’s side of the story
Active listening “seek to listen then respond”
The ability to create conversations with strangers by finding common ground with strangers,
“Icebreakers” when meeting new people
The manner in which you communicate as a collective when working towards a common goal
The importance of understanding the other's language
The use of oral communication (speaking out against justice, self-expression)
Learn to speak and communicate with different parties/seniors/ people in authority





Taking initiative
Sri Lanka Unites offers school students with multiple opportunities to take their own initiatives and test the possibilities of being pro-active in the face of a problem instead of reactive.

The “Champions of Change” program partners two schools across different ethnic/religious backgrounds, and encourages them to conduct a social action project together. This is a learning curve for many students who have never held a leadership role where all decisions related to the project are made by them. SLU facilitates the process, but we watch as they learn from their mistakes!

They learn how to;
 Analyze pro’s and con’s before taking independent decisions
Have confidence in their analysis
Be brave enough to put ideas and thoughts into action



We have many stories which verify that the education system does not provide adequate leadership training and so we are not surprised that the above three factors are required to the intensity reflected through the survey.

  
Were the results of the LDS a result of a larger issue?

The lack of priority given to harnessing soft-skills through the education system is one possible root cause of this issue.

Inability to work as a team, which in essence means to work towards a common goal.
The learning environment in most schools focuses on preparing children competitive exams, starting at from age 10 (grade 5 scholarship exams), to age 18 (university entrance).
-    The notorious “Grade 5 scholarship exam” is when most children start competing fiercely with their peers to get scholarships into better schools at the tender age of 10 years.
-    Students don’t see themselves as part of a collective, but as individuals who are destined to run a race by themselves. They are taught that achievement comes by surpassing others in every sphere possible; to be “the best”.
-    The sense of competition consumes a student right throughout their formative years until they sit for the Advanced level exams. The final fierce competition, gets unhealthily competitive, as students fight to get access to the limited seating in a local university. Every year we have cases of suicide once A-level results are released, where students who fail to get into university see no other options left in life.

Similarly, oral communication is a skill rarely harnessed in school students.
-     In most schools, the vast majority of students do not take part in extracurricular activities. The general definition of learning is to memorize school textbooks and re-write the very same text in an exam paper. While acknowledging the importance of examining the extent to which young people have grasped an understanding of the subject matter, the Sri Lankan education system is essentially built along a model which fundamentally tests the ability of a child to memorize.
-    The textbooks have been designed in such a way that teachers take notes and students listen.
-  Most individuals spend a lot of time either at home or classes and hence does not communicate with or know how to communicate with new people. They are shy and backwards, without an ability to create conversations. The lack of such skills would most certainly impact their quality as individuals in the labour force.

Consequently, “taking initiative” is barely a skill that is acknowledged, let alone practised.
-  The syllabus is a frame into which young students are forcefully directed. There are no opportunities which allow young people to take independent decisions.
-   The strict hierarchical structured of authority in schools and homes produce Sri Lankan youth who cannot take a decision let alone take initiative without “asking someone”, most often a teacher/parent.
-   The conservative norms which govern Sri Lankan upbringing thus produce youth who feel disempowered in the presence of authority. Taking initiative in the workplace would make a young person feel” disobedient”, as they would have been trained to think at both home and school.

We sincerely hope the education system changes to include training on the missing skills needed in the country.

It is exhilarating to know that our work contributes to the quality of Sri Lankan Labour! We believe that through our training, we ultimately contribute to our economy.
We are motivated to do more!

  

Written by
Neluni Tilllekeratne
Co-National Director
Sri Lanka Unites