Sunday, August 9, 2009

Future Leaders Conference: Day 2

Day 2, The First Morning

Even though most of the team went to bed around 2:00 AM after an excellent day, Sri Lanka Unites’s was awake and preparing the following day’s events by 7:00 Saturday morning. The SLU Polo Crew and several international volunteers are being housed in rooms ten minutes away from the main center on the MAS Institute campus while the students and their group leaders enjoy comfortable dormitories at the conference hall. After a quick stroll, we were able to join the rest of the crew for a brief breakfast before the main sessions began. Once seated in the auditorium, a short video revealed the outline of the coming day’s contents. The day ahead promised to examine the chaos of a divided nation while the remaining days delved into the potential of Sri Lanka, the strength of a unified country, and the leadership qualities that reside in every person.

Day 2, Eminent Speakers and Engaged Students

After a complimentary introduction, Jayantha Dhanapala delivered the first session of the conference. The students listened with rapt attention as the former runner-up for the position of U.N. Secretary General spoke of the characteristics of true leaders, the effective strategy of inclusiveness, and the universal nature of human rights. He emphasized the development of strong moral fiber in order to confront difficult situations and the necessity of forming an inclusive mindset to avoid stereotyping. Human rights, a guiding star for making key decisions, is not only a Western concept but is deeply intertwined with universal human dignity.

The students voiced their queries with a lengthy question and answer session. The initial shyness was broken by one brave girl, and she was soon after followed by a torrent of questions that had to be cut short so that the schedule could remain on time. Kumar Rupasinghe, another eloquent and respected speaker, spoke after a forty-five minute break about the past mistakes of Sri Lanka and of the precedents that Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi have set for its renewal. The powerful morning sessions ended when the students broke for a well-deserved lunch and some thoughtful reflection.

Day 2, Unexpected Creativity

While the students enjoyed their morning, the Orlando team was busy erecting their massive canvas just outside the cafeteria within an open-air hallway where the lighting and setting was best suited for artistic endeavors. By lunchtime, a few sample pictures had already been painted along the border to encourage the students’ participation. Though the canvas had been divided in four sections for four days, the students, eager to show off their enthusiasm, filled up the entire canvas in one day during the lunch period. This burst of creativity is very welcome, and the Orlando team has already made preparations for new surface to be used tomorrow.

Lunch was soon followed by a group of ten speeches from representatives from each of the teams. These short talks were very intellectual in nature and only prove the motivation and talent of these young people. Already, the language and feelings that these young Lankans use when communicating with their fellow peers is very accepting and reveals a remarkable shift from the mistrust harbored during 3 decades of war. Games of cricket, rugby, and tug of war continued the bonding experience as students succeeded to unite their group with team spirit and to win points for the night’s impending score report.

Day 2, Breaking Barriers

If there had been any questions about the attendees’ high spirits the previous day, all doubts were shattered when the students returned to the auditorium for the evening. Once the teams’ logos were displayed on the projector, the sense of comradery and competitive sportsmanship that erupted from the enthused response of the students assured that everyone genuinely enjoyed themselves right where they stood. The students already possess budding relationships with those they would never have had the opportunity to meet only a short time ago. As of now, the Kandy Knights hold the strong lead with the Galle Gladiators following in second place. Manik Mendis’s motivational speech in Sinhalese (with a Tamil translation) was greatly appreciated and allowed for a fitting segway from the previous excitement into the rest of the evening.

Day 2, New Arrivals

As the skies outside turned black, news reached SLU that the Jaffna students had almost arrived. The host of greeters who left the auditorium to anxiously await their presence erupted into applause as two vans pulled up to the entrance and the Jaffna students walked in to the building to individually shake the hand of Prashan De Visser, SLU’s president. The teachers later told the staff that the unexpected welcome alone had made the 10 hour drive worthwhile. With all of the students present for the first time, Sri Lanka Unites has achieved something that has never before been done in the history of the nation. They have succeeded in bringing hundreds of people from the four corners of the country in a spirit of goodwill, reconciliation, and new beginnings. This insight is not lost on the students as they continually emphasize the importance of this conference and the change they hope to initiate once they return.

Day 2, Unwinding with Understanding

After dinner, the entire crowd of Lankans entered the auditorium where the stage was set for Rukshan Mark, a popular Sri Lankan entertainer who graciously agreed to play several songs for the evening. The previous intellectual atmosphere of the morning was replaced with an electric feel as Danu hosted the show and introduced the special guest with a friendly stage performance. Once the stage was his, Rukshan began an up-beat song that had the crowd on their feet within moments both dancing and clapping. Rukshan invited many people on stage to the obvious delight of the audience and even presented them with copies of his album. A pleased crowd was dismissed for the night to sleep and to look forward to an event-filled tomorrow with four more prominent speakers, more creativity, and more learning.

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