By Dilan Herath,
In July of 2014, I ventured to Sri Lanka from the U.S for a global health seminar. It covered topics ranging from tropical diseases to social and political reforms. When this ended and I was preparing to laze around Kandy and Colombo, a cousin had me meet some friends at the Sri Lanka Unites Headquarters. They mentioned an upcoming conference (Future Leader’s Conference (FLC)), and I decided to chance orientation.
Since I am part of the Sri Lankan diaspora who knows basic Sinhala and no Tamil, attending orientation alone was awkward. I was nervous of being passively forsaken for inability to easily communicate in the local tongues. But before I could even think of withdrawing for kotthu and EGB, we started an icebreaker. The day’s activities didn’t require abandoning my comfort zone and we interacted just by having fun! As I became acclimated, we split into volunteer teams comprising 3-4 people. I was pleased to easily acquaint Ijaz and Siva. Orientation gave me great expectations for the upcoming conference with students hailing from all over Sri Lanka.
When the week of reckoning arrived, we were assigned ~20 students. I was rearing to go until I realized that many knew Tamil or Sinhala exclusively, while I only communicate well in English. But given my recent orientation, I trusted the FLC program. We began as strangers having fun with activities that required minimal verbal communication. Later, via multilingual members, we talked on deeper levels. We discussed how each person has been impacted by the 30+ year civil war and the weight that we carry individually and as ethnic groups. Ultimately, we proved that together we can overcome past darkness and be the harbingers of a brighter future while we still bask in the springtime of youth.
After FLC, I visited my new friends in eastern and northern Sri Lanka. It was amazing to explore these regions to which I otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed. The Future Leader’s Conference has given me hope and inspiration for Sri Lankan unity, and I wish to return to continue strengthening my bonds with all Sri Lankans.