By - Natale Dankotuwage
My eyes gazed across the crowd falling on an elderly man on bike, barefoot and donning a sarong. He parked his bike by the gate and wandered over to another elderly man in sarong as well. I was intrigued. I walked up to one of the two men and introduced myself. Found out he was Chaminda’s Father.
Chaminda is one of eight individuals that are making Sri Lanka Unites Reconciliation Center in Kamburapitiya a reality. Weeks earlier, I had visited the newly rented center. It had not yet been renovated and was thoroughly a mess. But weeks later, on that sunny August day, the whole center had been transformed. I was thoroughly impressed.
I was feeling sentimental, as I do when I feel I’m in the midst of something special. Chaminda’s father was feeling sentimental too. I noticed tears of joy fill his eyes as he watched Chaminda from a distance. “I’m not very wealthy” he explained. “He’s a good son, never got into any trouble” he continued. My heart went out to him.
Inside the center Sri Lanka Unites Volunteers were hard at work, setting up computers on new desks, placing books on new book shelves. Signs were placed on the top of each room, dividing the center into an English classroom, Business Entrepreneurship classroom and IT classroom.
In the kitchen tea was being poured, while cutlets and kiri bath were set out to be served. The center, tucked away in one of Sri Lanka’s most Sinhala dominated areas, was bustling with excited energy. And I was thrilled to discover the energy being exerted from across the ethnic lines.
In broken pieces of Sinhala and Tamil young volunteers of Sinhala background from Matara explained to young volunteers from Jaffna and Colombo of Muslim or Tamil background where help was most needed. I watched from afar as smiles crossed their face as they tried to figure out what the other was saying.
Outside neighboring villagers took seats out front where the opening ceremony was about to begin. The Masters of Ceremony began the program. A series of musicians and dancers followed.
I watched through a window from inside the center. I breathed in, letting all the hope I could feel around me settle with me.
Here I was, in a space dedicated to bringing people together to create and imagine the avenues of transforming a nation and its people for the better. Things can only go up from here.