One Tamil student who attended the Future Leaders Conference once said, “Hate was like me drinking poison.” The statement referring to his long-held hatred and disdain for the Sinhalese people. What occurred over the course of a few days in the middle of August was something truly remarkable. A boy who had once wanted nothing to do with his countrymen changed his heart and decided that the future could only be made together with the participation of the entire island. A mind that once strove to erect additional emotional barriers redirected itself to begin looking for a practical solution to the problem of ethnic division in Sri Lanka. It is the hope of SLU that these stories will be repeated on a nationwide scale.
Often, people make the mistake of believing that change must always occur from the top down. They neglect to notice that lasting change frequently occurs on the grassroots stratum and works upwards to construct a new culturally acceptable pattern for society. Thus, programs that do not target the hearts of the people and interact with them on the personal level are often doomed to failure. Any genuine widespread change in a societal attitude must originate within the minds of the people. Without this metamorphosis, only superficial changes will surface. Persons will tend to revert to their past actions when freed from external constraints, and old grudges that were never resolved will once again take precedence over the search for a feasible way forward.
Such thinking is the rationale behind many youth movements. Since the youth of Sri Lanka are more apt to be freed from the stereotypes and shackles of the past than the more entrenched generations of their parents, Sri Lanka Unites has entrusted the future of the nation to youth of all ethnicities who will one day grow into positions of leadership across the island. For most students, the change that occurs during the Future Leaders Conference is anything but external. The post conference activity of those who have attended the conference is evidence of the internalization of values which have been reciprocated as actions that invest in the future.
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