Being Inspired - Day One of School Relations Tour 2012

 

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It is chaos in the Sri Lanka Unites Office on the morning of 1st October as 25 of us, the ‘Dream Team 2012’ try to complete the tasks assigned to them in preparation for the upcoming All Island road trip. Videos are being edited, newsletters being printed, and the final arrangements are being made. It is absolute chaos, and yet, the feeling of excitement and anticipation is almost palpable. We are about to set out on an inspiring journey, an initiative which in itself is history in the making. 25 young individuals representing all areas of the island coming together as the next generation of Sri Lanka’s Young leaders in an attempt to empower and inspire young students in schools all across the island is truly an amazing feat.

Before we start our journey, it is essential that we ourselves be inspired and our first day is therefore dedicated to meeting with a few eminent Sri Lankans , in order to recognize what we can learn from them.

The first person we meet is Mr Eran Wickramaratne, MP, former member of the board of trustees Sri Lanka Unites. We learn that he is celebrating his birthday. He welcomes us warmly. In a very personal and insightful session he shares the challenges he faced as a school student and how he applied the lessons he learnt to his own life. “Some decisions cannot be measured in rupees and cents” he tells us. Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala who we meet next encourages us with a few enthusiastic words, leaving us inspired for the journey ahead. Finally we meet with Prof, Rajiva Wijesingha, advisor to His Excellency the president on reconciliation. He encourages us to review his draft policy document for reconciliation. We head back to prepare for the official 20 day journey, a journey that will potentially change our lives.

 

Lives Unseen, Voices Unheard

The word for challenge is same as the word for opportunity in the Chinese language. This is what Prashan reminds us, as we all sit in the bus quiet, contemplative and our hearts in mixed emotions, after our first visit to Keppapillavu, a resettlement camp in Mullativu, newly established for hundred and thirty five families. The tragedy and suffering we witnessed is truly distressing and we're all deeply moved. We spoke to several families living there and found out that they've just been relocated from Manik farm into what they've been told are their permanent homes. These 'homes' are basically shacks made out of wooden pillars with rackety tin roofs. The lands these people once had are no longer accessible let alone theirs.They have gone through so much and the stories they tell have you inspired by their moral strength.

As we walk down this dusty road, we meet a little girl who walks out and stares curiously at us, wandering who these strange people are who have come to visit them. Her mother stands besides her smiling at us. We ask her about her family and, pointing to the little girl, she tells us this is the only family she has left. She had had four children but her husband and two of these children had been killed because of the war. To make matters worse, her other son had been taken by the Tsunami, leaving just her eight year old daughter Yalini, whose innocent smile shows us that she doesn't understand what's going on. It amazes that she talks about all this in such a matter of fact way and goes on to tell us that she feels no hatred for what had happened to her. All she wants is freedom for her daughter, and the assurance that beautiful Yalini would never have to undergo the hardships that she did. "My life is now over" she says. "All I want is to make sure my daughter has a better life than I did, and a brighter future".

Stories such as this one are endless just within that camp and truly makes us determined to something about it. In the words of Windya; "I'd seen and heard about situations like this on TV but this was the first time I'd seen something this grave in real life. If I ever had to live like that, I don't know what I would've done."

The problem does exist, we saw the gravity of it with our own eyes. However what needs to be done now, is to help in whatever way we can. We discuss the possible things we can do and make a commitment that we will make a change. After all, turning challenges into opportunities is what the 'Dream Team' is all about.

 

SHOWDOWN

The SHOW YOU CARE campaign was just the first step in putting an end to harassment of women. It is our passion to see this social menace to an end, and to make the whole of Sri Lanka a safe place for all women to travel in. In order to achieve this we’ve realize that all three major components of the issue need to be addressed;

1. Lack of awareness about the issue and the law
2. Lack of civil action against harassment through reporting
3. Lack of proper implementation of the law

Through the SHOW YOU CARE campaign, we made some inroads into addressing the first two components, by creating awareness and emphasizing the importance of civil action to effect change. The next phase of SHOW You Care is to spread the initiative to other parts of the island, create wider awareness through the media and to reach the Law enforcement and other government authorities with our message.

o Prior to the event steps are being taken to approach a broad span of the public and interested parties including the authorities. The overall aim is to bring awareness, make a collective statement and continue this flow until we stop harassment of women in Sri Lanka.

o Women’s Rights Groups and other relevant personnel are being met with and their input being integrated to the project.

o Following the event, an organized campaign will take place on print, electronic and social media;

Banners and visual displays will be publicized around Colombo following the event; bill boards, hoardings, at education institutes, public places, places of business e.g. banks, supermarkets etc

Regular news articles on the issue will be published, and radio programmes on the issue will be aired.

o An art and photography competition on the theme will be organized, open to the public, especially to students and youth.

o The public will be given an opportunity to join the dialogue and propose solutions to the issue.

o Funds are being raised not only for SHOWDOWN but for the cause as a whole to take this campaign to an Island wide level.

o The Event on the 20th of October will be the lauching of several aspects of SHOW YOU CARE all in one:
- Media
- Schools
- Corporates
- Creative arts
- Campaigns
- Policy

o There will be awareness programmes on the issue, the law, and the possible solutions following the event.

o Interactive steps such as forum theatre, will also be used.