The Inter Cultural Dialogue project is a project funded by the British council of Sri Lanka that strives to bring Sri Lankan undergraduates of different cultures and backgrounds together by providing them with a forum to express their ideas, promoting mutual understanding through constructive and progressive dialogue. The overall objective of this project is to strengthen the peace and harmony among different ethnic groups living in various parts of Sri Lanka.
For almost a quarter century, the Northern and Eastern parts of Sri Lanka have been severely affected by the on-going civil war. The war has contributed to a further polarization of the communities in the North and East and the people living elsewhere in Sri Lanka. The North East region of Sri Lanka is predominantly inhabited by Tamils and Muslims whereas the majority of the population in the rest of the country is Sinhalese. The level of interaction and communication that earlier prevailed between the communities in the North and East and their counter parts in the rest of the country has deteriorated rapidly due to the civil war. Its implications are quite undesirable with elements of escalated distrust, enmity, rivalry, jealousy and lack of mutual understanding and ignorance of each others’ cultures, behaviour, languages, environments etc.
The polarization of communities in the war affected region and those in the rest of the country is largely seen among the youth population of Sri Lanka. The current youth in the age range of 17 – 27 years are the real victims of this situation. Many of them have lost their real identities, opportunities for education, mobility and interaction with the larger Sri Lankan community. Other than succumbing to a gun culture, these youth have been deprived of even considering a different ontology all together. Simultaneously, the youth in the rest of the country are also deprived of accessing the conflict zones and building networks with different ethnic communities living in the North and East. Apart from security reasons that restrict the physical mobility of different communities in the North and East and rest of the country, these communities also lack appropriate modes of communication such as language skills, technology for improved communication etc.
Under these circumstances, it is important that ethnic amity is strengthened among youth living in the war affected North and East and those living in the rest of the country. Our generation has practically grown up with this civil war, hence in the future when we are called upon to play a key role in building sustainable peace in our respective communities the skills and broader perspectives we have acquired courtesy of the ICD project i.e. promoting intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding among youth as a precursor for conflict prevention and peace building, we hope will make us better equipped to deal with intricate situations.
With all these future goals at heart 19 students form 5 Sri Lankan universities gathered at the National Institute for Youth Affairs in Maharagama on Friday the 2nd of January 2009, to take part in the three day residential camp organized by the British council. In addition to the 19 of us, 6 British Council staff members and two professional trainers who wished to facilitate the proceedings were also present.
On the first day- the 2nd, we spent the morning session drawing up a poster about ourselves and eventually presenting it. I must say many diverse personalities emerged as we went on with this activity. The best thing was that the British Council staff too did not hesitate to take part in it, even though most of them belonged to a different generation than us. This sort of participation set the right attitude for mutual understanding and mutual respect. The after lunch session was dedicated to a team building activity, we were given a limited amount of time to complete the task and I’m glad to say we all participated in it with charisma and completed it as a team. The second day (the 3rd) morning session ensued as a continuation of the heated and controversial debate that had occurred the previous night after dinner. I’m glad to say every single co-group member, British Council staff and even the two facilitators were very liberal and open minded about giving their opinions and accepting other’s opinions. After lunch we had a guest, Mr. (Mihirini’s father’s name) who presented a synopsis of Sri Lankan history and a thought-provoking research done on gene profiling highlighting the origins of the modern day Sinhalese. Then followed the session where each of us had to choose a partner and do a little presentation as to what we had each gained from the project so far. It was interesting to listen to all the comments and observations because it makes one realize how differently each one had perceived, interpreted and absorbed the project. Personally, I thought it threw the lime light on the concept of diversity and yet how mutual understanding can be achieved through constructive dialogue even amidst such immense diversity. The 3rd day (4th) was all about hard core project planning where we came with a code of conduct and some basic aspirations for the project. One of the most attention-grabbing activities was Mrs. Mihirini De Zoysa’s idea of writing down our fears and hopes for the project. Here again we came to know that many of us have shared sentiments about the project and discussing them out aloud gave us a lot of ease about each other as well as about the project. The after lunch session was once again dedicated to a team building activity, one that Mr. Lalith (surname) had come up with- ‘the blindfolded perfect square’, I must say I enjoyed it quite a bit. At one point we were struggling as a team, storming rather, but in the end thankfully to our own team we managed to complete the task. A great thing I noticed about the British Council staff was that they gave us our own space, they gave us the fiscal assets but let us experiment and do our own self-exploring, that is a marvelous feat on their part I believe, because that is all we needed to grow and come together as a team which was not an easy task as it was undoubtedly comprised of youth of very contrasting personalities. Thus ended the first half of our 5 day residential camp.
The second half of the camp was held on Saturday the 17th and Sunday the 18th of January 2009 at the same location. (I’m sorry I dnt know wat happened exactly on 17 cz I was not there, tried asking around but cudnt get much meat on it) The 17th was dedicated to more team building activities and focusing on the sociological aspects of culture and how mutual understanding can be achieved through understanding and respecting diverse cultures. The 17th after dinner session proved to be very entertaining and strengthened us more as a team. The 18th was devoted to coming up with project plans as to how we wish to promote the concept of inter-cultural dialogue and I’m happy to say we came up with quite a few concepts which are still at their primary planning stages, but I’m sure I speak for all 19 co-group members when I say, we are all eagerly looking forward to putting our plans into action in the coming months.
originally written by chamindri