by Sashi Selvendran* (USA)
As the first day came to a close, the students learned more about the purpose of the conference, visited their shared rooms, and ate a traditional Sri Lankan meal for dinner. They watched as a live band performed an original composition, in all three languages. They clapped and beat their feet to the rhythm of the beat, as the excitement of the next 4 days started to build.
The third morning was a time of reflection and inquiry for the students. Speakers discussed the value of building social change by starting with yourself. Raghi Kadirgamar talked of the shared commonalities between the ethnic groups in
Following these talks, the students engaged in a thought-provoking question and answer session. Many of the questions reflected the depth of their thinking on the topic of reconciliation. The questions from
For many of the students, this was the first time they had left their hometowns. Coming to a new place, separated from their families, and then separated from their friends was intimidating. But as the conference progressed, with smaller groups for sharing stories and discussing key issues, inspirational talks by leaders, and of course, sports events, the students merged well into their new roles. They chanted emphatically for their respective new teams. Unique teams that weren’t comprised of students from their own school, but instead students from different ethnicities and regions all playing alongside each other, against a similarly structured team. They learnt each others stories, they shared their hurt and their hopes, and they came to new understanding. Most of all, they broke down barriers erected by decades of division and conflict, to realize that truly they shared the same hopes and dreams for themselves, for their future and for their country.
Whether they came from small towns or big cities, the common confidence and ambition was palpable. The potential for SLU to channel the energy of these students to start social change in their communities is clear and inspiring. The impact remains to be seen. But if the student’s non-stop energy, hard-hitting questions, and strong interest in reconciliation seen at the conference is any indication – the sky is the limit for this group to innovate, create, and lead their communities to new heights.
*Sashi Selvendran is a Sri Lankan American who moved to the States in 1984. Her Tamil-Sinhalese roots brings her back to Sri Lanka often to visit family and friends. She currently works in International Development and is a member of Lanka Solidarity - a multi-ethnic diaspora group based in the U.S. She was visiting Sri Lanka in August and decided to attend the FLC as an independent observer.