By - Tracy Kumarapeli
The reconciliation process using the youth is without a doubt the best solution, and the fact that they haven’t yet contracted the epidemic of cynicism that plagues the older generation gives room for a ray of hope for a better future. With the Future Leaders Conference these youngsters will be able to eradicate prejudice and ethnic persecution and maintain the trust and respect that all people are entitled to.
Can a society move forward from the heartache and the ever consuming wrath amassed during an era of conflict? It was the same question posed when the three decade war in Sri Lanka finally came to an end. Can we move forward from the years of brutality and unwarranted discrimination amongst ethnic groups, which undoubtedly led to, the greatest bloodshed that Sri Lanka has ever experienced? The fear and distrust harboured throughout the years has in turn instilled a sense of trepidation among people, which is preventing reconciliation in the true sense of the word, but what better time to seek reconciliation than the invaluable clip of now? For waiting until the distrust fritter away could do more harm than good.
To quote Mark Strand; the future is always beginning now. Hence for a better tomorrow, action has to be taken right here, right now. Carrying the power of ‘now’ close to heart, the Sri Lanka Unites (SLU) movement, has taken matters to its own hands. Backed by a group of young people from all walks of life, this youth reconciliation movement believes in inculcating the need to remove ethnic intolerance and to nurture a whole-hearted sense of appreciation and acceptance towards one another within society.
Since 2009, the SLU has been hosting the annual Future Leader’s Conference for school children who have exhibited a potential for leadership. With five days of intense and stringent skill training for the selected youth from different ethnic origins, the conference guarantees that a sense of true “Sri Lankan-ness” will be instilled in their minds. Dispelling the doctrine of nationalism based on caste and creed, these future leaders will then move on to spread the message to the other parts of society.
If the past is not to repeat itself, the old stereotypes must be avoided; a new spirit of cooperation and understanding must be forged. Instilling a vision of a hopeful future in the youth of this nation is crucial and is one of the goals that the SLU hopes to achieve.
Right after the blood curdling war, it came to light, that a staggering 75% of the youth in Sri Lanka do not have friends outside their own ethnicity. Therefore another objective of the conference is to forge new bonds among students that would hopefully, last for a life time.
Being proactive is the modus operandi of the SLU movement and the Future Leaders Conference. For reconciliation on paper might be attainable by an extrinsic influence, such as a government, but then again a country’s regime can only do so much. Instead, we, ourselves should take the first step towards reconciliation and this in turn should be done at a personal level.
The Future Leaders Conference has been gaining momentum each year with having trained over 1800 students from all 25 districts during the span of four years. Motivational speakers, workshops and sports events that allow students to interact are the highlights of the confab. Trained volunteers from universities at home and overseas mentor these young minds.
The closing ceremony of the conferences are always intense and emotional so much so that the hardest of hearts would find it very difficult to not be moved and chime in when every student yells “Sri Lanka” at the top of their lungs. You didn’t have to be a Sri Lankan to have gooseflesh erupt when you feel the palpable unity and respect that the students have for each other, and that’s when you realize that a united Sri Lanka isn’t so far off in the future.
It is of no doubt that the past cannot be re-written. It is also beyond impossible to change the way people think overnight, there is just so much animosity and bitterness left inside of them. It is so clear that, encapsulating this vehemence inside will do no good and before we know it another war will emerge from its wake, and so goes the cycle. Reconciliation should feature in everyone's goal for eternal peace, something quite akin to Nirvana, the Eternal Kingdom of God or salvation that any other religion assures. Personal salvations aside what Sri Lanka really needs is a lasting harmony, where every living soul enjoys the God-given right to live with dignity.