Saturday, August 23, 2014

From sameness to an appreciation for diversity

Nimna Wickramasinghe has been satisfied in her life in Colombo, till the time she did not meet fellow Sri Lankan citizens from the other part of the Pearl Island. A fortuitous joining of Future Leaders’ Conference presented her with an array of new beginnings.

“I did not know what was going to happen there,” Nimna said recalling her first day at FLC. She has participated in the 5th edition of the FLC organized at Galle. But all of her apprehensions were allayed as the Conference progressed. “I made lot of friends just because of the FLC. Today I have friends in all parts of the country. Earlier my friend circle was restricted to only my class and school, but now I have friends from all walks of life,” said Nimna. Now whenever she travels to other places in Sri Lanka, she just puts up with her friends. 

The experience speaks volume about the hope that the present generation of the Island nation has, as due to the war that raged on for quarter of a century, there has been a generation that never had any contact with people beyond their own community. This isolation meant that the prejudices and hatred bred unabated. But no more, the present generation dreams of “One Smile, One People and One Sri Lanka”.

Her experience at FLC has been once in lifetime for her. “At the end of the 5-day conference, I had an emotional moment, when my team volunteer from Kalmune walked up to me said that he found a younger sister in her.”Nimna was the member of Batticoloa Bandits in FLC-5. It took her some time to break ice with other very young Tamil boy in the team.  “There was 9 year old Tamil boy in our team. He barely spoke but, over a period of time you saw the team changing and on the day of departures everybody was teary-eyed,” added Nimna.

Her biggest take away from the conference was the appreciation of differences and she understood that children from conflict zones had lot of pent of emotions and a lot needed to be done to bring them into the mainstream. “My mother, now when she cooks food for me for school, makes sure that the food is halal and it does not have pork, so that all my friends can enjoy the food together.”

Nimna’s dream run with the new found friends continued even after the FLC. She started a school project in Mullaitivu region of the country that once has been the hotspot for the war. She understood that to communicate one does not need the knowledge of the language, but the willingness to communicate. And she only has fond memories about it, “For the school project we partnered with schools in Mullaitivu. Even though I did not know the language but we could communicate. The people in the region were really hospitable to us.”

The conference was also a learning lesson in taking pride in being a Sri Lankan. “Before FLC, when I thought about my country I used to wonder why I am here as it was a messed up place. Now I do not doubt my country any more. I want to help rebuild this country. I had got rid of my racist idea as after knowing people I am not afraid of them any longer,” said Nimna.   
Her last message was – “We should give peace a chance." 

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