Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Look Back at 2013

The year of 2013 kicked off with Sri Lanka Unites opening its first reconciliation center in Mullaithivu. It was a 3 year dream of Sri Lanka Unites with the opening ceremony being held on the 31st of January. The reconciliation center was declared open by Alistair Burt MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, United Kingdom. On April 2013 the reconciliation center had its first graduation ceremony for the first 3 batches of the English Diploma followed by the graduation ceremony for DITEC Program conducted by ESOFT, a combined number of 58 students graduated from the Mullaithivu Reconciliation Center on the day. At present the Mullaithivu Reconciliation Center provides scholarships for over 150 students in Business Entrepreneurial Studies, ICT and English. Just 7 months after the launch of the Reconciliation Center in Mullaithivu Sri Lanka Unites launched its 2nd Reconciliation Center in Matara. A remote village named Kamburupitiya was the location for the new center. United Kingdom’s Foreign Affairs Minister William Hague graced the Matara Reconciliation Center by his presence on the 14th of November followed by discussions about overcoming issues facing Sri Lanka with students of both the Reconciliation Center students and the new Dream Team.

As always the flagship event of Sri Lanka Unites was held this year in a colorful fashion with great enthusiasm by the Sri Lanka Unites Team. The venue for this year’s conference was Sangamittha Balika Vidyalaya, Galle. It was the first time that a Buddhist School was hosting the conference more over the venue for the conference was even more unique given the fact it was hosted by a Government School. As always students took part in the conference with great enthusiasm coming from all corners of the island representing all ethnicities. Over 530 students took part in this year’s conference with over 120 volunteers helping out in organizing and mentoring the students taking part in the conference. This year’s best Champions of Change project award went to Methodist College and Hind Ladies College for their project of standing up against harassment of women. This year’s conference had a slew of interesting speakers ranging from various ethnicities and age categories. Day 2 of the conference introduced the idea of reconciliation and explored underlying responsibility of all Sri Lankans in this regard by Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran, Dr. Jehan Perera and Mr. Javed Yusuf. The ideal qualities a leader should possess in order to ensure effective and lasting reconciliation was presented by Justice Shiranee Tilakawardena and Mr. Kushil Gunesekara on Day 3. Ms. Namini Wijedasa, Mr. Fadhil Bakeer Markar and Mr. Nalliah Kumaraguruparan Ashokbharan spoke to the students about the need for youth to creatively identify foster creative expression of ideas to address present day challenges on Day 4. The conference was also made colorful by entertainers such as Dushyanth, Randheer, Choro Calibre and Voiceprint. On the final day of the conference the moment that always moves the heart of the people is when the students take the stage and apologize to each other for the hurts and injustices of the past inflicted by one community to another. Although many have criticized that this is only a feel-good element there is no denying that the students need this. Forgiveness needs to be asked, hurts must be acknowledged. It is a vital part of the healing process. It’s one important step taken towards the process of reconciliation.

After an enormously successful SHOW You Care campaign in 2012 this year’s SHOW You Care Campaign kicked off at Vihara Maha Devi Open Air Theater on the 25th of September. Over 200 Volunteers and school students from Ananda College, Wesley College, St Peter’s College, Methodist College, Hindu College and Thurstain College attended this year’s SHOW You Care launch and they were enlightened by speakers such as Caryll Tozer (Founder of Women in Need), Shyamala Gomez (Fokus and Gender Advisor at United Nations) and Neela Marrikar a women’s activist and Chairperson at Grant McCann Erickson. The campaign was endorsed by many celebrities ranging from sports stars to entertainers. Randhir an ardent supporter of Sri Lanka Unites made a guest performance at the launch. This SHOW You Care campaign was also endorsed celebrities like Murali, Alanki Perera, Randhir, Kushil Gunasekara, Sheshadrie and Dinakshi Priyasad. The launch was wrapped up with a candle-lit vigil and the students left with not only with a deeper understanding of the laws surrounding harassment, but with a greater awareness of the impact of harassment thus encouraging them to take pro-active steps to stop the progression of this issue.

The mentoring weekend for 2013 was represented by 20 enthusiastic schools dedicating themselves to making a lasting impact in Sri Lanka. The 2 day mentoring weekend program held at Pamunugama enlightened and gave guidance to students who were given partnering schools to carry out their Champions of Change projects. Excited students at the mentoring weekend made in roads to their Champions of Change (CoC) projects by laying down their project plans to be carried out with their partnering schools. An exciting line of CoC projects seems to be in line for the year of 2014 with students determined to make a lasting impact in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lanka Unites office had visitors for Avurudu when Japanese delegates from Peace Boat made a visit on the Sinhala and Tamil New Year. Pleasantries of Sri Lankan and Japanese traditions were exchanged by the SLU Team and the Japanese Delegates. Both parties had a better understanding of each other’s cultures after the pleasantries ended. On the eve of Ramadhaan the SLU team had an Ifthaar experience. The team sat down together on a traditional Sawaan to have dinner with traditions accustomed to Muslims. Perhaps one of the highlighted guests Sri Lanka Unites got the chance to meet this year was the Birtish Prime Minister Hon. David Cameron. Members of the new and old dream team had the honor in meeting the British Prime Minister.

In conclusion 2013 was an eventful and colorful year for Sri Lanka Unites in which an enormous amount of progress was made. Keep an eye out for the year 2014 with the Future Leaders Conference Season 6 about to take the Eastern province by storm, the third campaign for SHOW You Care and many more events to be held.

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