Tuesday, July 21, 2009

FLC Countdown: 17 Days

Organizing the Future Leaders Conference requires a strategy that addresses fronts on all levels, from the local grassroots connections to the offices of Colombo. Thus, on July 21 I found myself accompanying Prashan and the leadership of Sri Lanka Unites at a meeting with a high-standing potential guest speaker for the conference. The main topic was securing funds for students from Jaffna to attend the conference. From here the conversation often diverged onto possibilities for the far-reaching impact of the conference. It was easy to see that everyone involved was excited about the positive consequences that this unprecedented gathering of students could bring to Sri Lanka. I found the group united around the need for the students to be engaged with the conference and inspired by the speakers so that reconciliation would become a true goal as the participants sought a realistic understanding of their fellow citizens. In short, both sides of the conversation could easily agree that the success of the conference depended on both Tamils and Sinhalese feeling united to each other through their common nationality.

One of Sri Lanka Unites’s appeals is its direct confrontation with the minds of the next generation. Legislation of all kinds can be passed in an effort to control the actions of the populace, but if their hearts are not convinced of the need for these measures then action will only breed more hatred and contempt. For instance, education reforms intended to level the playing field tend to anger any disadvantaged groups. What is needed is not forced action, but a shift in the priorities of the people. Measures intended to reform the nation should be a result of a population already moving in a new direction, not the vehicle for foundational change itself. As long as the old modes of ethnic competition remain then neither side will be satisfied with what they have. Cooperation, rather than competition, moves the self interest from just one group of people and enlarges the scope to include the entire nation. Sri Lanka Unites correctly recognizes that legislation aimed at healing Sri Lanka will only be effective after the people are willing to believe that their futures are intertwined with the whole of the country and not along their ethnic boundaries.

The war torn regions of the nation have been the first to respond to Sri Lanka Unites. Encouragingly, 7 schools from the Northern and Eastern Provinces have already confirmed their registration for the conference. In the North Central Province, Giritalegama M.V and the Vidyaloka Model School from the Polonnawurra District have committed 7 and 8 students respectively. From the Anuradhapura District, Galenbindunuwewa Central College will be also sending 7 students. Four schools from the Batticaloa District in the Eastern Province are also registered. Mankerny Roman Catholic Tamil School, Vakarai M.V, Pethalai Vipulanandha Vidyalayam, and Al-Hira Maha Vidyalaya are each sending 7 students to the conference.

Speeches and discussions on the topic of reconciliation are key to reaching and uniting the hearts and interests of the students. The Future Leaders Conference will draw numerous notables from Sri Lanka and abroad such as Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala, the former UN Under-Secretary General for Disarmament; Kushil Gunasekara of the Foundation for Goodness; the marketing and business strategist Rohantha Athukorala ; the reconciliation psychologist Dr. Dominic Dixon; and the development activist Kumar Rupasingha. These speakers will all be contributing to the unity of Sri Lankans around their common interests.

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