Sri Lanka Unites Prepares Leaders for Tomorrow –Jayantha Dhanapala



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Jayantha Dhanapala


On a hot Saturday afternoon, I sat in the Father Mervyn Fernando Auditorium at the Subodhi Institute, Piliyandala to observe the concluding session of the Sri Lanka Unites Leadership Development Program "Let Them Lead". A portrait of the saintly Father Mervyn looked down on the audience benignly - and perhaps secretly chastising us all for not recognizing the depth of the thinking of the Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin for whom he held a life-long admiration in the midst of his own social welfare and mentoring.


 Sri Lanka Unites – a youth movement for Hope and Reconciliation - arose among the youth of our country from the debris of our internal conflict in 2009. Piloted by a group of young school-leavers they pledged to unite the youth of our country across regional, ethnic and religious divides into a vibrantly dynamic nation compensating for the numerous missed opportunities of preceding generations. With an annual flagship National Conference they have now assembled a national movement powered by a National Office and five Reconciliation Centres in Mullaitivu, Matara, Monaragala, Kalmunai and Nuwara Eliya (and more planned) These centres provide leadership and reconciliation training and experiential opportunities. The centres also provide full scholarships for Diplomas in English, IT and Business Entrepreneurship. They engage 1,000 new youth in their relevant districts each month. Sharing the importance of a united, inclusive nation and the importance of breaking the cycles of violence is one of their key goals.


 Each centre awards 150 diplomas each year and every centre is partnered with another centre of a different ethnic and religious majority. They conduct fellowship events and collaborative initiatives for change across ethnic and religious lines. 


 After ten years of engagement the movement has 20,000 youth members in 25 districts, 12 fulltime staff members and 12 part time staff working for the movement. 


Sri Lanka Unites also inspired the creation of Global Unites, the international umbrella movement, which is engaged in 9 countries today. The head office for the Global movement is based in Colombo.  You can read more on www.globalunites.org


 A month earlier a supine and divided Government allowed the extremist rabble rousers from outside to shred the generations long amity forged by the Kandyan kings. Undaunted by the racism and shameless politicization of the March events in Amparai and Teldeniya the youth leaders who had, after preliminary surveys, predicted these events, prepared again to rebuild, reconcile and reunite. 


They held a modestly financed training session over a weekend drawing on the leadership principles of such giants as Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela plus management gurus like Stephen Covey, John Maxwell and Simon Sinek. The training session comprised 40 youth leaders from every province of Sri Lanka. These leaders will serve as lead trainers/ mentors and will in turn train 100 young leaders across the country. These 100 leaders will lead groups of 10 in their communities to engage in grassroots efforts to counter hate speech, radicalization and communal tensions. 


The efforts led by these 100 groups of a total of 1,000 youth had three main goals in what was ambitiously described as "Operation Transform".


 


They were -


-To have 50 youth leaders join local authorities in each district. - Engage 15 cities at risk of communal tensions. - 25 families from each district hosting families of other ethnic or religious backgrounds 


These youth will be given training in leadership and character development, which will be followed by opportunities to lead initiatives to respond to the current challenges in the national context. The nation currently is in desperate need of a new generation of Sri Lankans united across ethnic and religious lines - a generation not perverted by the political and nationalistic tendencies of generations before them to lead our nation to face the new threats of communal strife.


 Sri Lanka Unites is also training these youth on how to use Social Media more effectively in order counter hate speech, expose harmful rumors and to speak up against violent rhetoric. SLU believes that this, in tandem with grassroots engagement is key to transform the current context. Many youth have been brainwashed and bought into the hateful narratives of racism via social media. These systematic efforts to poison the hearts and minds of our children for political and nationalist gains needs to be thwarted at the root. Sri Lanka Unites looks to do this through their YouTube channel SLUTV , their facebook and instagram platforms. To do this they need the assistance of moderate Sri Lankans who are clearly the majority, to aid their efforts online and on the ground. For more information you can visit their website : www.srilankaunites.org and gain access to their social media platform from there.


 Sri Lanka Unites is playing their part as a youth led movement for reconciliation. They embody the capacity of our nation’s youth to respond to some of the gravest challenges our nation faces at this juncture in our nation’s history. In the midst of political inaction and deadlock and a political culture that looks to benefit from the ‘us against them’ mindset, Sri Lanka Unites is looking to forge a new reality and transform our nation from the bottom up with our next generation. As ambitious as it may sound, and indeed it is, our nation requires such short, mid and long-term strategies if we are to ever live up to our potential and thrive as a nation.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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