April 2012


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Youth Expedition 2012—Kilinochchi: Moving from Tolerance to Acceptance to Engagement

Ebenezer Dharshan

Alliance Development Trust (ADT), the relief and development arm of the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL), brought together 15 Christian youth from the South and 15 Christian youth from the North to a forum of unity and togetherness at its Youth Expedition in January 2012 conducted in the northern city of Kilinochchi. With the objective of providing a platform to meet youth from different communities and understand their aspirations, the Youth Expedition conducted its sessions in an interactive process so that both groups could express their ideas and clarify their own viewpoints. The sessions at the forum included an orientation on the post-war situation in Sri Lanka; basic human rights; drug abuse prevention based on Christian values; and the past, present and future responsibilities for reconciliation as well as many outdoor activities, like peace games, visiting children’s homes and working together. The highlight of these activities was building new houses in ethnically mixed working groups for those who lost their homes during the war.

Sinhalese Christians from the South and Tamil Christians from
the North work together to construct new homes for people in
the North whose houses were destroyed during Sri Lanka’s civil
war. (Photo by Ebenezer Dharshan)

On the way to Kilinochchi, the long bus ride gave the young boys and girls from the South a time to reflect on the consequences of the three decades of war. Since both Tamils and Sinhalese were devastated with the hardships and violence of the war, how these youth were going to collaborate with each other during the expedition was a complex experience.

With eager curiosity and a minute sense of nervousness, these 15 youth finally met the youth from Kilinochchi on the first day of the expedition. Through spiritually filled hearts, the program continued to enable the youth to converse, share and rely on each other. A brief explanation of the situation in Kilinochchi gave the youth major insights on the intended approach of the expedition. This propagated their spirits towards better fulfillment of the final outcome, i.e., to provide a platform to meet each other and understand the aspirations of different communities.

This three-day program included a variety of possibilities to engage in peacebuilding. Not only were the youth given an opportunity to take part in peace and reconciliation activities, they were also provided the chance to witness the distraught left behind after the war, both to the land and the people. This effort included a visit to a children’s home where they were able to meet talented, yet devastated, children of all ages and situations. This encounter gave them a moment to reconcile, not just among themselves, but among the unheard cries for help, sorrow and loneliness expressed by these children.

The program included numerous games that evolved around the significance of peace and reconciliation, which the youth considered the most fun. With smiles, laughter and a bit of childishness, the 30 youth engaged themselves in games and teamwork, giving the youth the chance to build bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood that underlined the concept of “different, yet so similar.” The 15 youth from the North were enthralled due to the fondness they portrayed towards the youth from the South, enabling them too to believe that acceptance and peace is an important priority while hate and scorn are emotions of the past.

The most intriguing momentum of the program was the involvement of the youth in the process of building houses for the resettled communities. This activity allowed the youth to experience the hardships and turbulences of the people in the North. During lunch, the youth discussed with each other the importance of reconciliation for themselves in order to initiate the first step towards long-term peace for the country. These conversations realized the main objective of the Youth Expedition and the proclamation of the work of Christ as a success. The youth were elated, and, even though exhausted, they were adamant to enjoy the atmosphere of community that was spiritually set around them. After much conversing, playing games, laughter and smiles, it was past midnight when the second day of the Youth Expedition concluded.

The knowledge conveyed to the youth through the educational sessions enabled the youth to understand certain values and various aspects of issues, including a drug abuse prevention session based on Christian values; basic human rights; our past, present and future responsibilities for reconciliation.

The most heartfelt moments occurred among the group on the third and final day of the program. It was the Southern youth group’s first visit to Kilinochchi, and they were all moved by how much people in the North were affected by the war. Sharing their testimonies with everyone, they expressed how much they benefitted from this expedition.

“We could only communicate with our Tamil friends in our group only through gestures and eye contact” said Shantha, who had come all the way from Galle. “Yet we united to help make cement blocks that would build a house for a young boy who not only lost his home but was also paralysed when a shell fell on his house.”

The three days they spent with each other had created not only lasting friendships but also a determination in everyone to return home as an ambassador for peace with the message of unity and love for one another.