Each morning of the conference started off bright and early. While not the most enjoyable part of the day, waking up so early was quite an advantage, especially in light of the lengthy morning shower line-ups that seemed to be a certainty. Many students had travelled more than 12 hours to attend the conference, and may have been too exhausted from their trip to engage and interact with their peers on Day 1.
Many of the students seemed quite timid at first,very likely due to the prevalent language barriers. But this was soon overcome with the many games and activities that were played. The ‘Human Knot’ for example, required the students to hold hands in a circle. One student then broke the circle and walked under and over the others’ arms to result in a human knot. The student then linked up again with the last student. The task was to show patience and communicate clearly and patiently to untangle the knot.
This year’s conference had a slew of interesting speakers. The morning panel discussion on Day 2, for example,introducedthe idea of reconciliation and explored the underlying responsibility of all Sri Lankans in this regard. Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran, Dr. Jehan Pereraand Mr. Javed Yusuf, spoke in Tamil, Sinhala and English, respectively, to encourage students not to simply contribute ideas, but also to contribute meaningful action toward the cause of reconciliation. On Day 3, Justice Shiranee Tilakawardena and Mr. Kushil Gunesekara - Founder of the Foundation of Goodness – spoke about the ideal qualities a leader should possess in order to ensure effective and lasting reconciliation. And on Day 4, Ms. Namini Wijedasa, Mr. Fadhil Bakeer Markar and Mr. Nalliah Kumaraguruparan Ashokbharan spoke about the need for youth to creatively identify foster creative create expression of ideas to address present day challenges.The sessions were all very well received, particularly because of the passion that each speaker brought to the stage.
After-session activities encouraged students to utilize creative expression to foster active learning and collaboration among students with diverse backgrounds. One such activityrequired each student to identify two events – one historical and one personal – in relation to the conflict. Each team then put together a physical timeline of these events. The purpose of this exercise was twofold: to educate students about the conflict and to also demonstrate that all Sri Lankans are connected in some way to the events of the conflict. In this way, students were able to bear witness to the commonalities shared amongst them.
On another day, students were asked to identify possibly solutions to a given problem in Sri Lanka. Areas of concern included unemployment, education, poverty, domestic violence, and cost of living. There were a variety of solutions, both to perceived and real problems within these areas. I was really impressed with the creativity the students demonstrated in presenting their solutions; many used poster board, but some also used film. The students spoke eloquently and passionately about their desire to create positive change, and it was truly inspiring to witness the essence of the term ‘Future Leader’ captured in this way.
Some time was set aside each day for the students to participate in physical activities. Sports such as cricket and volleyball were played, along with other non-conventional games. During sports time, half of the teams participated in an oratory competition. Students were asked to speak for 3 minutes on the topic ‘A Diverse and Inclusive Sri Lanka’ – teams selected three students to each speak in English, Tamil and Sinhala.The resulting speeches were spectacular to watch. Each student demonstrated an impressive effort, articulating clear and well thought out ideas to their peers and judges.
During the evenings, teams prepared and performed a creative item – a song, dance, or skit – that was in line with the message of SLU and the conference. A variety of musical artists also performed, ranging from energetic performances by Dushyanth, Randhir and Fantasy, to acapella performances by Choro Calibre and Voiceprint.
It is evident that the conference has served to educate and inform, but has also been an excellent opportunity to showcase some of Sri Lanka’s most talented musicians to the youth.