Monday, June 29, 2015

One of the Best Experiences of My Life

By Dilan Herath,

In July of 2014, I ventured to Sri Lanka from the U.S for a global health seminar. It covered topics ranging from tropical diseases to social and political reforms. When this ended and I was preparing to laze around Kandy and Colombo, a cousin had me meet some friends at the Sri Lanka Unites Headquarters. They mentioned an upcoming conference (Future Leader’s Conference (FLC)), and I decided to chance orientation.

Since I am part of the Sri Lankan diaspora who knows basic Sinhala and no Tamil, attending orientation alone was awkward. I was nervous of being passively forsaken for inability to easily communicate in the local tongues. But before I could even think of withdrawing for kotthu and EGB, we started an icebreaker. The day’s activities didn’t require abandoning my comfort zone and we interacted just by having fun! As I became acclimated, we split into volunteer teams comprising 3-4 people. I was pleased to easily acquaint Ijaz and Siva. Orientation gave me great expectations for the upcoming conference with students hailing from all over Sri Lanka.

When the week of reckoning arrived, we were assigned ~20 students. I was rearing to go until I realized that many knew Tamil or Sinhala exclusively, while I only communicate well in English. But given my recent orientation, I trusted the FLC program. We began as strangers having fun with activities that required minimal verbal communication. Later, via multilingual members, we talked on deeper levels. We discussed how each person has been impacted by the 30+ year civil war and the weight that we carry individually and as ethnic groups. Ultimately, we proved that together we can overcome past darkness and be the harbingers of a brighter future while we still bask in the springtime of youth.

After FLC, I visited my new friends in eastern and northern Sri Lanka. It was amazing to explore these regions to which I otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed. The Future Leader’s Conference has given me hope and inspiration for Sri Lankan unity, and I wish to return to continue strengthening my bonds with all Sri Lankans.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

New Beginnings

Today is the last day of the summit. The morning started off with Awista Ayub, the South Asian Regional Director, Seeds of Peace, spoke on the work she’s been involved in with the organization from 2012-2015. Seeds of Peace work predominantly in the Middle East and Asia. Awista is very honest in her speeches, and, while she conveyed the amazing work on what Seeds of Peace does, she also spoke about the struggles which arise to sustain. Her presentation was both insightful and beneficial to the gathering.

The delegates then split into their regional breakout teams and a member from each regions spoke to all the other groups, sharing the experiences that they possess over the past three days while  discussing the action plans, which have come out of these discussions and the issues that were discussed.
President of Global Unites, Prashan then addressed the delegates encouraging and explaining how excited and hopeful he was to have a group of such dedicated, passionate youth from around the world.
After a group photo and some morning tea, the buses departed for the closing ceremony. It was time to drive to Colombo, saying final goodbye to MIMT.

The buses left at 3.30 pm  towards BMICH , where the closing ceremony was held. We all arrived at BMICH after a long drive to Colombo. The closing ceremony started with traditional Sri Lankan dance entering the room, as the delegates arrived closely behind. With all of the participants from the 5-day summit and local members of the Sri Lanka community; from highly regarded individuals School chapter members of Sri Lanka Unites to students of Sri Lanka Unites Youth Reconciliation Centre, many gathered for this closing event making it a locally embraced.

Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala extended his support while articulating his hope in his keynote address. He said, “we see a bottom up approach, and now we are seeing a top down approach from the government.”
High Commisioner Geoff Doidge addressed the crowd saying that he is inspired by the work of Global Unites and Sri Lanka Unites. He affirmed his support at all possible means in the progress of the movement. He was inspired by the people he has met and amazed by the questions he was asked.
This was followed by some amazing Baratha dancing, which is a Tamil cultural dance. It was wonderful to have these talented dancers a part of the ceremony.
Randhir, Kanji and Rajeeva performed for us all again.
Through the ceremony, delegates were recognized by the countries they come from. Their work and efforts were highlighted and brought to the attention of the wider world. Interns from Sri Lanka Unites were called upon the stage and recognized for their sweat and toil doing all the ground work for the summit being the hosts.
To end the summit Kanji, Randhi and Rajeeva sung the song Wavin’ Flag. This ended the inaugural Global Unites Summit for 2015, which is not the end, but the brand new beginning of a journey towards creating a better world of Peace.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Our Time is now

Another long day has ended at MIMT. With the same daily structure as the previous two days, we had more panel discussions, speakers, breakout sessions, food, and entertainment of course!
Today we watched a video footage of Dr. John Paul Lederach speak about conflict transformation. Following with Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala, who has 10 years’ experience working with the UN spoke about his understandings of conflict transformation. His eloquent nature resonated the vast experience he possess as a diplomat who talked about getting to a state of permanent peace being like a tripod, “it’s a tripod of security, development and human rights that helps us to sustain a permanent peace.”
The day continued with the EC series panel discussion, this time the Global Unites Programme Coordinator Kau Hanmantgad was leading the panel with, Ned Lazarus and Hannah Simon Girard s each presenting who spoke of implementing strategies, evaluation and compassion. Kau shared his knowledge on the implementation of strategies. Ned focused on evaluation and explained it through the work he has done in Palestine-Israel. Lastly, Hannah spoke very personally about compassion. Hannah informed us that the word compassion comes from the Latin meaning of co-suffering.

After lunch we had the opportunity to listen to DRC Unites President Pascal, Kenya Unites President Benson and Ramzi SLU National Director on a panel sharing their knowledge and experience with International Alliances. They each had experiences working with different International Alliances. They were honest with their information telling us about the negative and positive outcomes which can arise. But all seemed to have really positive experiences. Ramzi highlighted that “alliances itself [are] opportunities, but sometimes we fail to use the opportunity to our advantage. You need to have a clear vision so you can strategically use the alliances for your benefit.”
After this panel the breakout sessions were underway, which was the last one of the breakouts for the summit. Once everyone came back together, people were asked to split into groups of three and with people from different countries. They had to answer one of these two questions, ‘What is an immediate action which you will take away from the breakout session and implement?’ The second question was ‘What could Global Unites offer you as you go forward?’
The night was ended with some comedy led by Abel with impromptu theatre, where every one of us thoroughly enjoyed. Tomorrow is declared to be the last day and will keep us going at GU. We’ll be at MIMT until the morning sessions and then we will prepare for closing ceremony. 

by Jasmine Pilrow

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Role modeling for change

The third day was another success and we are now over half way through the summit already. Its difficult to comprehend the progress of the summit.
Again there were more sessions, panel discussions, activities, food and deep and personal discussions.
The panel discussion then began with Michael and Christopher from the United States and Indi from Sri Lanka. They shared their experiences using media for social change, and the powerful effects it can have. They all had different, but all positive, experiences of using various forms of media. While acknowledging the negative aspects it can bring, they provided us with creative ideas and inspiration to use social media well and in the most productive of ways. Indi conveyed the way he used social media during the civil war. Michael spoke about its power with people who have a disability. A presentation was untaken by Christopher on how to effectively use social media, in particularly through twitter.
A session was then run on ‘the plan, the brand and the money.’ Fatima, Simba and Abby each spoke about their expert areas. Fatima started the session educating us about strategic plans and the best way to approach them. She shared her insight and expressed the need of being adaptable with the context you in and how it may change.
Simba was next, answering the questions about branding. He highlighted the importance of getting your brand out there and making sure that you provide spaces for people to participate and get actively involved. He believes that “the world is changing and it has actually changed to your advantage… social media has made the world very, very small.”
The last person for this session was Abby. Abby spoke about fundraising and questioned us all on our idea of what fundraising is. She put forward the idea that fundraising is more than seeking money, but it is also about finding partnerships and intellectual resources from fundraising. Abby gave us many tips about the most effective ways to approach donors. She encouraged us to “find creative ways to work with donors.”
Another panel discussion was held after lunch. Two special guests, Justice Shiranee Thilakawardene and Tony Seneviratne speak about corruption and transparency. These are issues which many countries around the world continue to face.  The audience were very grateful for this discussion as one lady stood up and thanked them for all they said, and explained how she’ll implement the knowledge and skills she has learnt from this particular session.
Again, the delegates were separated into their ‘breakout’ groups. They delved deeper into their topics from yesterday, discussing in more detail the issues they are each facing in their countries of conflict and post-conflict societies.
After another long day of sessions, the delegates were asked to sit down and reflect on what they have learnt so far. They answered the question ‘how have your thoughts been changed or reinforced from what you have learnt?’ After two days of intense sessions and dialogues, there was a lot for people to reflect on.
We were very lucky to have Awista Ayub speak to us about her work in Afghanistan with women and soccer. Awista is an Afghan-American. During 9/11 she was faced with the struggle of figuring out her identity, “what it meant to be an Afghan in America.” Awista was very honest with everyone telling us about the things she would have done differently next time, in hope that we avoid making similar assumptions and misunderstandings. She focused on how it can be easy to get caught up in the western mindset and misunderstand how things will play out in a conflict-zone. Despite this, Awista managed to start the first ever female soccer team in Afghanistan. This didn’t come without struggle or self-sacrifice though. Which is something she reminded us all; of how much this road costs to us personally. She encouraged us to go forward with our work, even if it means loved ones disagreeing.
Tajay Bongsa, from the executive committee, led us all in some mediation after this talk. It gave everyone a chance to relax and clear their minds. It was a lovely addition to the day.
Everyone was then taken to an unknown activity, which turned out to be a master chef competition outside! Divided into their fellowship teams the groups were competing against one another to make the best dish. With all the ingredients in the middle everyone had to race to grab what was needed. The dishes were then tasted and judged on their taste and the presentation of the food.
The entertainment tonight was taken to a new level with a lip-singing competition; six males against five females. Tunes from the 90’s, Modern Pop, Bollywood and Latin Pop were the categories of musical choice. After lots of dancing, lip singing and cheers, the girls finally won the competition.

By Jasmine Pilbrow

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Serving without titles

Today has been a busy day with many sessions, panel discussions, lots of yummy food and deep conversations. The day started with an honourable guest coming to speak to us all, the High Commissioner Geoff Doidge. Geoff is from South Africa and spoke about his experiences growing up and living in the apartheid South Africa. He further expounded upon the nonviolent activism he is involved in South Africa: “Non-violent action unfolded on many fronts, civil disobedience, boycotts, workers strikes and demonstrations. These unconventional acts used in unison began to make South Africa uncontrollable and ungovernable… It was the efforts of these movements, along with international support, that brought down full scale sanctions, and forced the government into negotiations.”
We had our first EC Series today. Movement Building Moderator, Hannah Simon-Girrard facilitated the panel, with panellists Kanji Mbugua from Kenya, Nawaz from Pakistan and Prashan de Visser. They spoke about connecting with your place, your team and your people. The delegates had many questions to ask them and were inspired by what the panel had to say.
After a lot of time spent sitting and listening, a well-deserved lunch was enjoyed by all.
The afternoon saw more intensive conversations with a panel of four people speaking about the work they are doing with their organisations in their home countries. Fatima Mullick from Pakistan, Lydia Nundak from Egypt, Pascal Magareoulino from the Congo and Christopher Neu from America shared their stories. A range of topics were discussed such as the use of technology to advance communities, how to alleviate poverty, sustainable development, how to work in challenging and diverse environments and how to deal with threats when doing nonviolent peace work.
Next the delegates split into four groups, with representatives of different countries pairing together with those who are from countries facing similar situations. The four groups were ‘countries currently in conflict,’ ‘countries with upcoming elections,’ ‘countries in post-conflict situations,’ and ‘the causes of conflict.’
The night ended with an amazing performance by Kanji, some hip-hop from Rajeev and some sensational music famous the Sri Lanka singer Randhir. It was a lovely way to end the night with lots of singing and dancing enjoyed by all!

By Jasmine Pilbrow

Friday, June 5, 2015

World Youth for Reconciliation

Day 1 – Global Unites Summit
Today marked the beginning of the inaugural Global Unites Summit at MIMT in Thulhiriya, Sri Lanka. While the majority of people had already arrived, the summit wasn’t to begin until 5pm. Many delegates and Executive Committee members went to the Millennium Elephant Foundation for a visit in the morning.
While at MIMT, Interns and Executive Committee members were busy putting together the last minute touches for the smooth commencement of the summit.
The summit was kicked off with Kanji, from Kenya, leading the group with singing and dancing at the opening ceremony. Dishon and Ayesh from Sri Lanka Unites, who facilitated the event and passionately articulated their experiences with Sri Lanka Unites. The audience were inspired and encouraged by their stories and the work that Sri Lanka Unites does. Sri Lanka Unites was the inspiration which contributed to the inception of Congo Unites, and now Global Unites.
The lighting of the traditional oil lamp which symbolizes hope and light out of darkness marked the ceremonial beginning of the event. Delegates and representatives from various countries and departments lit the oil lamp.
Prashan, the Founder and President of Global Unites delivered the welcome address to the gathering, extending warm welcome. He spoke about how encouraged and inspired the Executive Committee and he were, when reading all the delegates applications. Prashan said “we are from countries of bad governance, corruption and conflict. But are we going to let that overcome us, or are we going to be change makers?” With 34 delegates from 18 different countries, the room was filled with incredible change makers from all over the world, and we all knew our answers.
The ceremony ended with delegates being invited onto stage, country by country, people were invited up. The rest of the audience were invited up for a group photo. The ceremony was closed, smiles were seen all around.
Throughout the week delegates will be assigned to two groups, a regional team for breakfast, and a fellowship team over dinner. The idea behind these two teams is to provide the delegates with an opportunity to form strong friendships with other peace builders through sharing a meal. After the ceremony, dinner was served and the delegates meet with their fellowship teams for the first time.
After a successful first day of the summit, everyone is looking forward to seeing what tomorrow brings.
The best is yet to come.

By Jasmine Pilbrow

Friday, March 20, 2015