The cheers that permeated the previous morning had not abated as the international team strode into the conference room on the start of the penultimate day of the Future Leaders Conference. Socializing and general merrymaking was the order of the hour as students passed the time until the first session. At 9:00 am, Ashan Malalasekara, the Founder and Executive Director of the Youth Progressive Foundation, addressed the crowd on the many variations of youth organizations across the world. Currently, groups are at work in Israel and Palestine promoting personal understanding between the two peoples through visiting refugee camps while sports and educational programs are used to teach the importance of children’s rights in South Africa. Digital and social media have become increasingly foundational to the livelihood of these organizations as they garner support from the local youth. In Sri Lanka, the time is ripe for such organizations to gain traction as 26% of the population is composed of young people.
The facial expressions within audience betrayed their interest in the subject matter. Many set motionless, wrapped in thought as they listened to the words of the speaker with focused attention. As the youth acclimate to their new environment and construct a theoretical framework for perceiving reconciliation, they have become increasingly engaged in the more intellectual portions of the conference. Their response has made it clear they now possess a better grasp of the gravity of their role in Sri Lanka. Malalasekara’s depiction of real world examples continued to aid the mind’s voyage from the sphere of theoretical knowledge into the realm of practical action.
A key aim of Sri Lanka Unites is to spread the vision of youth-led reconciliation abroad, and the Future Leaders Conference is not exempt from this goal. The conference began the afternoon by hosting a panel of five international delegates to discuss the problems and situations facing their own country. Kaustaubh (India), Pascal (Democratic Republic of Congo), Benson (Kenya), Sean (US), and Xola (South Africa) all shared the unique challenges that the youth from their native land faced. Many young people are distraught over the current cultural and political systems that plague their country and desire an alternative to the violence and useless blame-shifting of the past. All of the individual who presented at the conference are active in the grassroots life of their communities, and some have already talked with SLU to assist in developing their own youth movements.
Taking the Stage
International involvement at the conference donned a decidedly casual tone as Prashan introduced the Sri Lanka Unites Australia team that had arrived earlier to support the event. The students grinned as the speakers belted “Land Down Under” to a troupe of Australian Sri Lankans dancing their way to the front of the stage. After a brief introduction and presentation that affirmed their support for the vision of youth-led reconciliation in Sri Lanka, SLU Australia departed the stage to allow the student leaders to deliver some presentations of their own creation. Staff was on site to observe the youth’s songs and various forms of vocal performance in support of reconciliation and solidarity with their fellow Sri Lankan attendees. Team affiliation played no factor in the content of the event as all demonstrations associated themselves with the efforts and purpose of the others.
Leadership and Bonding
The second session of the day commenced with a dual presentation by Nayana Karunaratne and Anushya Coomaraswamy. Both notables spoke of the qualities necessary in student leaders. To become a leader, one must be willing to listen to others in the group, be informed of the peculiarities surrounding a given situation, and be able to act confidently and decisively. Additionally, one must realize their own physical limits and take precautions to rest and prepare for what it is they hope to accomplish. Ms. Karunaratne and Coomaraswamy took a special interest in the Q&A session. Though all sessions have an interval dedicated to answering questions from students, both women particularly relished engaging the students directly and clarifying their points. The students themselves were no strangers to making their thoughts known. For instance, one brave student inquired about achieving the proper balance between listening to others and following personal intuition and vision. Questions like these revealed the increasing willingness of students to apply what they had been taught.
A second round of sports resumed for the day. Cheers once again rang out across the stadium as team-specific chants spurred the students into action. Team volunteers often seized the initiative in encouraging their teammates and promoting creative cooperation. Other staff members and international delegates took advantage of the moment to leisurely stroll across the grounds and erase the stress of the day by watching the ongoing competition and taking snapshots of the surrounding scene.
As the last shafts of the setting sun illuminated the marquee, the electrifying atmosphere of the previous night’s entertainment was replaced by the subdued aura of Shane Smith’s guitar. The crowd listened mesmerized as the American volunteer executed a skilled performance of several tracks containing blues music. A few minutes later, a contingent of the SLU volunteer staff stepped forward to interactively teach the students a special composition written by the Orlando team. As the first half of the evening expired, the talented rapper Krishan arrived at the stadium and reignited the hectic scene that had prevailed the day before. Students were free to join the rapper on stage and all participants enjoyed themselves thoroughly for the next 45 minutes. Reverberations from the excitement could easily be felt within the overlooking conference rooms where Sri Lanka Unites remained hard at work coordinating the details of the events to come. Due to the celebrations of the nearby Buddhist Perahera festival, adjacent volume levels were to be kept at a minimal after 8:30 so that the festival could continue unhampered. A joyous bunch of youth retired early for dinner and sleep at Trinity College.