Thursday, August 13, 2009

Future Leaders Conference, Day 5

Day 5, Just the Beginning

The end of a profound conference came on August 11 when students packed their belongings to begin their voyage home. The two morning sessions were much more relaxed in comparison to the other days, and only one speaker had been scheduled for that morning’s proceedings. Sri Lanka Unites delivered the two sessions with an emphasis on commitment and persistence in the fight for reconciliation. A common criticism of stand-alone conferences is that they provide no means for learning to be put into practice. A few months or even weeks after a conference, the attitude of the participants tends to settle towards apathy, and the attendees no longer care or even remember what they had experienced at the retreat. This was not to be the case with the Future Leaders Conference of 2009. Sri Lanka Unites has put an extensive amount of effort into constructing a follow-up program so that the students will be able to transform their inspiration into action. A 37 week guidebook will be available to all students by the beginning of the school terms that details practical steps to begin SLU chapters in their schools and communities. Other weeks contains articles, movies, and even some experiential learning games. The morning sessions introduced these concepts as they focused on ways to continue action beyond the theoretical world and into the practical realm. At the end of the session, the Minister of Education, Susil Premajayantha, came and spoke at the conference. He expressed his gratitude for Sri Lanka Unites’s vision and the power that the youth had to change their country. He stated, “We are at the beginning of a new era in Sri Lanka, your era, for you students to become future leaders of our country.”

Day 5, A Time for Healing

Many of the students have been personally affected by the war by the war, and SLU has incorporated a motion of closure as a part of their ending program. During the final meetings of the small groups, the volunteer leaders took their time explaining their own prejudices and faults and asked the group for their forgiveness. This touching time was reciprocated as many of the students detailed their emotions and asked for each others’ pardon. Forgiveness is a necessary step of reconciliation. The past cannot merely be buried beneath the hopes and dreams of tomorrow. To truly heal a country’s wounds, the past must be addressed forthwith. Only once the people truly put their animosity behind them and are reconciled to each other can the path to peace be opened.

Day 5, The Voyage Home

Throughout the morning and early afternoon, the halls were bustling with the presence of hurried students trying to collect as many phone numbers and as much contact information as possible with the dwindling hours left at the conference site. The conference marked its last hours with several last entertainment events in the auditorium. The Kandy Knights were announced as the winners of FLC Season 1, and James Li conducted his last martial arts demonstration. As one final music performance came to a close, the students reluctantly said their goodbyes. Several media outlets looked on as the students gradually left the MAS Institute and began their return home. For some, this meant a short 2 hour drive, yet many others would need to endure a 10 hour trip across the country. The SLU staff was one of the last groups to leave. As the transportation approached Colombo, various people got off at their destinations until the core staff finally arrived back at the SLU office, exhausted and satisfied with all of the successes of the previous 5 days.

Day 5, Connecting People Together

Already, SLU has impacted the nation in unexpected ways. Initial reports state that students have approached their principals with various proposals without waiting for the school term to begin. One group even proposed a mini-conference to be held in several months’ time for their friends who did not have the good fortune to attend the Future Leaders Conference. Students have shared their experiences with peers and adults, and Sri Lanka Unites has been receiving positive reports from those who have heard the students recount their experiences. Some have written SLU and offered their services to facilitate Sri Lanka Unites’s continuing vision. The media coverage has been positive, and articles on SLU are cropping on multiple newspapers and online sources. As the polo crew takes a well deserved break for a few days, they can rest with the knowledge that organizing and launching the mission of Sri Lankan reconciliation was a fantastic triumph. The Future Leaders Conference of 2009 is having an impact far greater than anything we could have imagined.

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