Monday, July 14, 2014

Listen to Hafsa's Story From the West

Somewhere in the calendar in 2002 I can mark my first visit to the North after the Cease Fire Agreement was signed. I was just a 7 year old girl who viewed this visit as a family trip. We visited a lot of affected areas-broken houses, rehabilitation camps, Army camps and also met a lot of people who had stories to share. I remember we stayed with an uncle who had lost his son at the war who was struck by a Mortar while playing outside. On our way back we ended up staying in a camp– it was an adventure for me and I didn’t know what else to make out of it. Everything people had to tell, all these places I visited were just stories and ruins I could never relate to. A word called “War” was never in my dictionary. Why? Since I was never affected by the war. My life was secure and I was just a carefree kid who had protection.

When the tsunami hit Sri Lanka in 2004 I watched my dad- then the mayor of Beruwala spend day and night rebuilding his city with the help of his people. I wanted to become like my dad, a man who was always there to help people. In my eyes he was making the world a better place and for me my dad was a superhero, and I wanted to be one too. For a 10 year old helping my dad in a small way was a big thing. I still remember my dad telling me, “We can bring in change.”   And that’s when it all began. My passion to be the change I want to see, my passion to help people was born. The word “War” was still not in my dictionary and any sign of people dying was still absent in my mind.

But as I grew up and understood more of the situation in my country, the moment I got familiar with the word “War”, the spark of wanting to help people slowly started to die. As a Sri Lankan I had little love for my country.Then, being born into a country with a blood stained history didn’t appeal to me, I was in awe of Sri Lanka’s beauty but was never proud to say, “I am a Sri Lankan”. I was scared to walk out the door not knowing if I would ever make it back home safe. Bomb blasts were taking place every day, people were dying, things I didn’t want to hear were on the news- Sri Lanka was dying. In 2008 my family and I missed a bomb by just 10 minutes, this was the closest I came to experiencing the war and I was overcome by fear to be living in Sri Lanka. I no longer felt safe and I couldn’t bring myself to imagine how it must have actually felt like to be there. The only thought running in my mind was “if only I could leave.” 

The finality of the war came to me with “HOPE”, something I didn’t feel when the war was at its peak. The spark of hope didn’t die just there because in 2010 I was introduced to Sri Lanka Unites. I was 15 when I attended the Future Leader’s conference, season 2 and will always consider it a privilege. The 5 day conference changed my personality entirely. It changed my perspective of my country and its citizens. The interaction with students from other ethnicities was something I was never deprived of, but the last day what I witnessed in the conference I will always keep close to my heart. I saw us forgiving each other, building bridges and creating new friendships, I saw us becoming one. I became a proud Sri Lankan as I witnessed Sri Lanka Uniting; and in that moment standing among other future leaders of our country, a leader in me was born. 

A person is always faced with challenges when trying to reach their goal, my challenge came in the form of hate speech against Muslim. Racism stood between me and my passion of achieving reconciliation because I was once again taken over by fear, a terrible sensation, one I never ever want to feel again. While visiting the North, South and East during the school relations tour in January I always started my speeches and my work by saying, "I haven’t personally been affected by the war, so I do not know how it feels to be in your shoes. But all I know is the work I’m doing is because of my genuine passion to sustain peace in Sri Lanka".

Today, Six months later it pains me to say that I know how it feels to live with fear and spend sleepless nights filled with worry. I know what it’s like to actually no longer feel safe. Today I know how terrifying it is to think that you would lose a family member or anyone dear to you due to riots formed just by
misapprehension. I now know what ‘fear’ means and feels like and here’s what I want to say-“I do not want anyone else to go through it”. As Sri Lankans I know our beauty is our diversity so enough is enough,Sri Lanka does not deserve this. These incidents have reminded me the ugly truth of reality, but it has also brought me ten steps closer to my passion. It has made my belief strong and made me stronger.

During the School relations tour 2014, being part of the Dream team 3 I learnt that we recognize the power each of us have as future leaders of Sri Lanka and discover how best we can put them to use. I met some incredible individuals who have taught me how to perceive life in a new light, despite what you have gone through. 

When people ask me about what I want to become in the future I always reply saying, “I haven’t found what I am passionate about yet.” But all I know is I want to do something for my country, I want to play a part in making it a better place because I believe each and every one of us should contribute in any way possible to make sure that those dark days never ever repeat. We might not be responsible for acts of history but we will definitely be responsible for the acts of today and the world we handover to the next generation.
Today as I continue to enhance my knowledge on how I can be the change I want to see and as my journey with Sri Lanka Unites continues, I know my life would be full of challenges, surprises butyet be amazing. I will today, tomorrow and always be a proud Sri Lankan, because here, every day in this journey called life in which I learn.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Listen to Anuradha Ekanayake's Story From Polonaruwa

A thirty year war that shook our nation had ended. In the few years following the cession of the war brought about many changes in my life.

When I reflect back on the war, although I have not experienced its full effects, the bomb explosions, the media and the stories of my mother’s experiences are still etched in my memories and they created questions in my mind. I had both Tamil and Sinhalese familial ties but because there were hardly any Tamils in our village and because many despised them during this time of turmoil, we were reluctant to let others know of this fact. In the meantime when I was in 10th Grade I heard of Sri Lanka Unites and the Future Leaders’ Conference. Through the experiences I had received during the Future Leaders Conference I realized that in order to be untied and intergrated one’s ethnicity or religion was irrelevant and it was important to me to show this to my neighbors and those around me who believed otherwise. At this time we got the opportunity to partner with Wesley College and conduct a Medical Camp for those in my region as a Champions of Change Project. Many praised our efforts and we considered this an important and successful step in our journey.  The Doctors were from the Vavuniya Main Hospital and the students from Wesley College predominantly spoke Tamil. This event showed us the importance of working together while looking past language and social barriers. Those around me who had once despised those of other ethnicities now saw the significance in having these vital medical services provided by the very same people they had once ben prejudiced against. This project marked a very important time in my life.

At present I am learning at the Sri Lanka Institute Information Technology. The support I have received from fellow members of SLU during these past years has been immense. My hope is to serve my country as best as I can through the education and experiences I receive. I believe that reconciliation is a duty that we all must take up as young leaders of this nation. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Hasanthika Samaranayke - A Story from the West

During the first decade of the war, I was quite ignorant of it. The reason was that when the war was going on I was living at Gampaha which was a place completely unaffected by the war.  However what did make an unforgettable impression on me were the bomb attacks in Colombo. Out of them the most unforgettable one is the bomb explosion that happened at the Fort Railway Station. Being an Advanced Level student at this time I too felt for the families that had lost daughters and sons my age. Even though no one in my family was involved in or affected by in any direct way in the war, fear and anxiety was felt by everyone. I remember what my mother told one day when I was a child- “When I was in University, I had so many Tamil friends and they were quite friendly with us. But now? They are so afraid of us and we are so afraid of them”.

I entered University at the end of 2009 and by that time the LTTE was militarily defeated and the hope for peace and unity was felt by many. Fortunately the University I entered was the University of Colombo and there I was able to be a part of a multi religious and multi ethnic environment. Here I was able to acquaint myself and then make friends with students of all ethnic groups and thus slowly misconceptions about other ethnicities faded away. After completing my degree I had the privilege to work at Wesley College, Colombo and here too I was quite fortunate to work with a multi religious and multi ethnic community. While working at Wesley College I had the chance to meet Mr. Prashan De Visser, the president of Sri Lanka Unites, which was a movement for peace and reconciliation. After working with the movement for a while I decided to leave Wesley College and be a part of Sri Lanka Unites in a larger capacity. Today while working as the English Language Teacher of the Kamburupitiya SLU Reconciliation Center I am extremely happy about the decision I made a year ago.  
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                My first experience with SLU was volunteering at the Future Leaders Conference Season 5 held at Sanghamitta College, Galle. There I met students from all across the country coming from all ethnicities and religions. It was because of that wonderful experience almost all the misconceptions I had regarding other races vanished. At the conclusion of the conference I had hope for a better and united future for our nation. While working for the Center I am able to meet many different students but most from the Sinhala Buddhist backgrounds. I hope we will be able to connect and work further with the Mullaitivu Reconciliation Center in order to further our ties and to understand the other community better. 

Hasanthika Samaranayake - 24 years old, English Language Teacher of Kamburupitiya Sri Lanka Unites Reconciliation Center

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Story From the East

Even though I had not been affected directly by the cruel war in our country for 30 long years, I too had felt its effects for a long time. A man’s family and the atmosphere he lives in affects his thoughts and views. In 1989, when the war was at its peak my parents had to leave there native place in the Eastern province and had to live in Kandy because of the constant threat of the LTTE. This made me believe that all Tamils were either LTTE or supporters of the movement. The different governments which ruled our country from the time of the independence repeatedly did great injustices to minority ethnics groups. This made me to come to the conclusion, that the majority of our country was people who have racist inclinations.

All those situations and incidents made me think like a Muslim but not as a Sri Lankan Muslim. In 2011 I got the opportunity to participate in the Future Leaders’ Conference organized by Sri Lanka Unites. Here I got the opportunity to interact with youth from other ethnic groups. This made me get rid of the wrong impression and hatred I had towards these young men and women. The Future Leaders’ Conference made me realize that it’s unreasonable to find fault with whole community because of the wrong doings of a certain group of people and stereotyping other ethnicities.

I was also taught a great lesson at this conference that a selfish person only thinks about himself and has concerns only about his community. I greatly regret for being such a person in the past. It is feared that the recent attacks on the Muslim community may lead Sri Lanka into yet another era of darkness.  I am certain that if not for my involvement with Sri Lanka Unites, I would also have had the same stereotyped mindset of other Muslim youths at this time.

I strongly believe that when a community shares its views and feelings with other communities there will be understanding and reconciliation among them.

Hakkani Majeed From the Eastern Province (Sri Lanka Unites Dream Team Member 2012)
Translated by - Shruthi Waduge

Monday, June 30, 2014

Statement of Concern

Sri Lanka Unites, a youth movement for Hope and Reconciliation strongly condemns the attacks that were carried out on Civilians and properties in Aluthgama and its periphery. We urge the Government of Sri Lanka to take immediate action against the perpetrators and bring them to justice. In addition, we urge the organizations openly and overtly promoting communal hate speech and violence to be banned as they as a direct threat to the peace and security of Sri Lanka.

The freedom to practice ones religion and the freedom of expression are universally accepted human rights and an essential component of individual freedom. 

The deprivation of the practice of these rights and similar oppression had resulted in a three decade ethnic war which destroyed peace and development of this country while killing many of its citizens and leaving many differently abled along with property and livelihood damages. It is the strong desire and yearning for all the citizens of this country to co-exist in peace and to experience resilience from inherent hatred through genuine rebuilding of trust, through authentic reconciliation and understanding.

The recent communal violence isn’t an immediate outbreak, but a systemically evolved practice of hatred by fringe extremist factions against minorities. The concerned perpetrators have started attracting youth, the stakeholders of tomorrow through attractive false propagandas and explicit hate speech which successively resulted in attacking the worship places, businesses and properties of minorities through organized mobs using blasphemy. These events have successfully evolved into a communal clash incited through false notions. In addition to harming the existing peace and resilience, these practices of hate is a clear violation of law and order and indication of further threats against the existing law and order and divinity of country’s name. Recent religious and ethnic intolerances and internal chaos have created an international image that Sri Lanka is a vulnerable place for the minorities.

Sri Lanka Unites as a multi-religious, multi-cultural, non-partisan youth movement working among the grassroots firmly believes that youth are the stakeholders of tomorrow. We believe that through impacting and empowering youth, a nation built upon equality and meritocracy through authentic reconciliation and inclusive participation could be created when elder generations have failed to find a common ground and hope for peace. Unfortunately, the concurrent practice of hatred and violence strongly suggest possibilities for the recurrence of yet another ethnic turmoil and loss of peace of the country unless the issue is addressed and the perpetrators are brought to justice. Immediate action would sustain the hope among grassroots while develop a trust on the power holders that Sri Lanka is a rainbow nation where diversity is accepted and appreciated. As youth, we are not ready for yet another war because of the ignorance and sustaining impunity.