By: Chrisjit Xavier
1. The Vision behind the Action: What Sri Lanka Unites Stands For!
A vision statement is a vivid idealized description of a desired outcome that inspires, energizes and helps you create a mental picture of your target. SLU envisions “To unite the youth of all ethnic and religious groups across Sri Lanka in a movement that provides hope and promotes reconciliation, creating a peaceful and prosperous nation for future generations”. However, what does this really mean? Create a mental image as you read.
“To Unite” - The final goal and expected outcome of SLU is to create unity.
“The Youth” - The target group of SLU are the youth. SLU believes in working with the youth, because the youth are the leaders of tomorrow and are the most effective agents of change.
“All Ethnic and Religious Groups” - SLU is nonpartisan, multicultural and multi-religious; we are not aligned to any political, religious, ethnic or other such group.
“Across Sri Lanka” - SLU aspires to move away from being a mere urban movement; instead we work across Sri Lanka including at a grassroots level.
“In a Movement” - SLU is a home-grown movement and not an organization. It is not central to a certain group of people or an administration. Its activities are widespread and simultaneous in moving towards the same goal.
“Provides Hope” - SLU aims to be a beacon of hope amidst the hopelessness of the post-war context, carrying within itself the promise of a better tomorrow which could result through the united potential of Sri Lanka’s youth.
“Promotes Reconciliation” - SLU aims to focus its activities on promoting the process of reconciliation. SLU understands that reconciliation is a multifaceted process, and rests in the hands of many actors. We don’t claim to be the sole agents of reconciliation. Rather, SLU tries to promote reconciliation in its own way through its own means and capacity.
“Peaceful and Prosperous Nation” - SLU strongly believes that true peace and prosperity are based on nonviolence, equity and justice. The final goal of SLU is to build a nation where everyone can live as equal citizens, coexist in peace and work together towards prosperity.
“For Future Generations” - SLU believes in investing in the long-term. Most of SLU’s activities are geared towards changing mind-sets, influencing the grassroots and empowering future leaders, all of which will see fruition in the future. SLU acts now towards achieving the long-term goals of true peace and prosperity.
Criticisms and Responses
In whatever you choose to do in life, there is always the need to grapple with the good and the bad. In this spirit, we look at some common criticisms levelled against SLU:
Sri Lanka Unites is superficial and does not address the ‘real’ issues.
SLU has been criticized as being a movement that does not address the real issues that Sri Lanka faces but only brings together students of different ethnicities and religions together to create friendships. We have been accused of creating a superficial feeling of unity, when in reality ethnicities are divided. Further, others claim that SLU encourages a “feel good” mentality resulting in apathy amongst students.
Most often than not, this criticism is levelled based on what is seen or heard from the Future Leaders’ Conference. SLU holds firmly that the Future Leaders’ Conference does not create reconciliation, but instead provides the essential first step in the journey towards reconciliation.
Friendships formed at the Future Leaders’ Conference isn’t proof of reconciliation. Instead it is the first step for many in getting to know someone from another ethnicity and religion, and this friendship leads further into understanding each others’ problems and finally resolving those problems together. This process does not happen at FLC itself, but instead spans throughout the year, and is encouraged by SLU through this Guidebook, School Relations Tour, the Reconciliation Centre and Champions of Change projects. The so-called “superficial” feeling of unity is what opens many to even consider unity and reconciliation as a possibility.
SLU does not believe in preaching to the younger generation on the right course of action. Instead, we believe in creating in them the ability to think critically and providing opportunities for them to interact and understand the problems faced by each other and proactively resolve those problems. SLU plays a supporting role in initiating youth led action, and does not dictate how these problems should be resolved. We have had many success stories in the past, where students did not merely limit the conference experience to those 5 days, but instead went beyond to help their friends from different regions resolve problems they faced. Some of these stories can be found on our website.
We believe that in the future, when these students move into leadership, this willingness to address problems faced by those of another ethnicity and religion will result in the resolution of larger national problems as well.
2. Sri Lanka Unites’ is silent about matters of national concern
Sri Lanka Unites did not address or talk about many incidents that were central in Sri Lankan politics. The UNHRC Resolution and the Impeachment of the Chief Justice are two popular examples of such in the recent past. Therefore SLU is either biased or ignorant to the realities of Sri Lankan politics.
There are two very important features of Sri Lanka Unites that has to be taken into consideration here. Firstly Sri Lanka Unites has a membership that spans across the country, which includes people of varying opinions and viewpoints when it comes to these political issues. Secondly, we are a movement that works predominantly with school students from around the country.
The first feature places SLU in a very unique position to function as a forum that creates conversation across ethnicities and religions, between individuals of differing opinions on these issues. We have had countless number of internal discussion and heated debates about these issues. However, SLU as a movement cannot take a position or a stance on some of these issues, since we play the role of the unbiased moderator of these discussions. This in no way means that the members of SLU are ignorant or apathetic towards these issues or that they have no stance on these issues.
The second feature places a limit on the level of political activism that SLU can get involved in. When working with students, we cannot be politically charged and expect schools and parents to feel comfortable engaging their students in SLU activities. Instead, SLU takes the approach of encouraging the students to think critically and form their own opinions, while ensuring that a clear limit is set in our political engagement.
These two features do not make SLU biased towards any one party. We are strictly a nonpartisan movement and this principle is reflected in our decision to keep away politicians and politically charged figures away from our events and activities.
3. Reasons for Sri Lanka Unites to function the way it does
SLU doesn’t aspire to solve issues that it’s not mandated to solve. Instead, its mandate is to empower the youth of Sri Lanka into becoming critically thinking individuals with a passion to see Sri Lanka develop into a peaceful and prosperous country. In the long run these students will become the leaders of tomorrow, and will be making decisions of national importance. We invest time and effort in building up the capacity of those that will have the potential to solve those problems in the future.
SLU believes in actions over words. We don’t believe in criticizing or complaining about problems, unless we ourselves are doing something about it. Rather than spending time and energy pointing out the problems that we see, we believe in spending time and energy doing the little we can to resolve those problems
SLU believe in sustainable long-term change instead of quick fixes. Reconciliation is not something that can be achieved overnight and it definitely is not something that can be brought about simply by one person, organization or movement. Instead, it is a collective and collaborative effort by different players contributing in their own capacity to the process of reconciliation. SLU has identified its role in this process. We believe that lasting change isn’t achieved only through doing things in the present to create immediate change, but also by doing things systematically in the present to bring about sustainable change in the future.
SLU believes that the youth of this nation are the hope of this nation. In post-war Sri Lanka, it is very easy to lose all hope and become a cynic. But SLU refuses to believe that change is impossible, because we believe wholeheartedly in the power of the youth to effect change. We refuse to lose hope because we believe the youth are our nation’s hope.