While the majority of the world seemed unaware, Sri Lanka and its diverse citizens grappled with a 25 year long civil war throughout most of the ‘80s, ‘90s and 2000s; a war that pitted race against race, religion against religion and districts against districts. Many of the young people born into this war were fated to know nothing more than the division and segregation it caused across the country.
As the civil war drew to a close, the initiators of Sri Lanka Unites (SLU) recognised the need for reconciliation amongst the younger generation in order to ensure that the wounds of prejudice do not deem the country to be divided for years to come.
Sri Lanka Unites is a movement started in by Prashan De Viss as he took the opportunity to replace a culture of divisiveness and conflict and be a voice for change, hope and reconciliation. As the name suggests, SLU’s vision was to unite the youth of all ethnic and religious groups across Sri Lanka, creating a peaceful and prosperous nation for future generations.
The movement began with a small team of volunteers but 10 years on, due to its growth and impact, SLU now has a small team of full-time employees who work alongside to oversee projects throughout all 25 districts within Sri Lanka. SLU describes the heart of their movement as the SLU clubs in schools throughout all districts, which now has 20,000 members of different gender, race, and religion, all working towards one goal; a united Sri Lanka.
Through events such as the Future Leaders conference, which brings together the top student leaders from around the country for five days, SLU catalyses the process of integration and reconciliation. The conference enables student leaders to meet their peers from various parts of the island and provide the students the opportunity to challenge the prejudices that they may have inherited, empowering them to be agents of change and be a part of the solution.
Furthermore, the recently established reconciliation centres in Mulathivu, Kalmunai, Matara and Monaragala aim to provide education to youth in these districts through Information Technology, language skills and entrepreneurial education skills. Providing counselling and career guidance, many of the graduate from these educational hubs go on to pursue higher education, creating employment opportunities, making them more employable and a symbol of hope and reconciliation in their own regions.
While celebrating their 10th anniversary, SLU will be recognising the pioneers of who forged a path for reconciliation and peace in our beautiful nation. The 10th anniversary celebrations will include the acknowledgement of eight key individuals who have made significant contributions to the cause of peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka by the awarding of the ‘Outstanding Sri Lankan Role Model’.
Among the eight recipients of the award are Visaka Dharmadasa, Chair and Founder of the Association of War Affected Women, Dr. Jayantha Dhanapala, Former UN Under Secretary General for Disarmament, Kushil Gunasekara, Founder of the Foundation of Goodness and Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran Trustee and Board Member of the Women’s Education and Research Centre (WERC).
As the next generation moves into leadership, the future of this nation is in their hands. The hope that they make choices for peace and unity is the vision and mandate of Sri Lanka Unites. As we celebrate a decade of their efforts we can join hands with this movement to ensure all generations and the generations to come only know of a reconciled and unified Sri Lanka.