Sunday, November 13, 2011

United: One People

“Let us build a new Sri Lanka!” B. Priyathanushan of Vattapalai M.V. called out to his audience on the evening of October 29. Professionals, volunteers, well-wishers, teachers and parents gathered at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute with students from Kandy, Mullaithivu, Vidutaltivu, Vishwamadu, Killinochchi and Mannar as they spoke, danced and sang in English, Sinhala and Tamil, to celebrate the launch of the Ekamuthu Oray Makkal (One United People) Unity Mission Trust (EOM-UMT).

Priyathanushan stood at the podium that night alongside two of his fellow students, to share his vision of a Sri Lanka that would recognize that “unity is strength” and step “beyond racial and religious differences” into a truly peaceful future.

EOM-UMT works to “foster and facilitate national unity, reconciliation, integration and healing amongst and between the children of the North, Wanni, South, Central and other areas of Sri Lanka”. The philosophy behind the trust is a simple one: that of friendship. “What we’re trying to do is create friendships between children of different communities, because it’s only personal relationships that can be translated into social change” explains trust coordinator Bertal Pinto-Jayawardane.

Although the trust is now officially established, EOM does not boast of grand beginnings.  It is another simply inspiring story of how one family, in its bid to help those in need, began approaching friends and work colleagues in order to collect whatever possible resources they could, to provide for those in need soon after the end of the war. Their genuine efforts to reach out soon grew and developed into what is now a source of true inspiration and encouragement to the younger generation of the North and East.

“I am extremely proud” S. Yasutha from Vishvamadu M.V. reiterated during her testimony, as she shared how her experiences at the EOM camps helped her learn, develop as a person, and most importantly, build friendships. Her generation is now stepping out of a war-torn life into something they have never experienced before and which we in other parts take for granted, and these friendships will, in time, prove to be strong links of support as they face challenges yet unknown. The testimonies shared that evening at the gala launch of the EOM-UMT were moving proof of what personal contact can do to remedy communal wounds that have festered for longer than three decades.

EOM-UMT operates on an inter-faith platform, giving primary importance to the recognition of the multi-ethnic and multi-religious nature of Sri Lankan society. Their main aims are to support the educational needs of the children in the war-affected areas by “developing reference libraries, providing school books and other requirements to support classroom studies and sports, and conducting small-scale infrastructure projects to facilitate schoolwork”.

So far, they have completed food, educational supplies and medical projects in Menik Farm, Chettikulam, Jaffna, Kayts, Vidutaltivu and Mannar a number of times over the last two years. Although this sounds like a good list of achievements for an informally organized group of “like-minded people” who see themselves simply as “concerned and caring citizens who love Sri Lanka”, their real victory – in the friendship business – is far greater. Photographs from the EOM Camps held in Colombo in December 2010 and Mullaithivu in June 2011 show tonnes of laughter and gleeful smile after gleeful smile, depicting students from Colombo, Kandy, Jaffna, Mannar and Mullaithivu as they “chill out”, play games and do creative stuff together.

“What have we achieved in 30 years of war?” S. Logeswaran of Vidyananda M.V., Mullaithivu asked that evening. “We have seen only death, maimed families and widows. Violence will only give us destruction. Only love can achieve anything.” Clichetic you may think, and uncannily strong for a teenager. But it is that very strength that testifies to its genuineness, for he speaks out of more experience than most of us.

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