Language classes and intercultural visits promote peace in Sri Lanka

16 Feb 2017   |   Blog   |   Sri Lanka   |   Long-term Development

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Daisy Paulin has overcome personal tragedy to become a key peace builder in Vannankulam, in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province.

Leaving behind the loss, grief and dark memories of a three-decade war wasn’t easy but with the help of Peace and Reconciliation initiatives by Caritas Australia partners, Caritas Sri Lanka and Misereor, she was able to move on.

The 43-year old mother of three lost her husband in 2007 as their family tried to escape to India.

“We planned to go to India by boat due to the tense situation which prevailed at that moment in the northern part of our country. The boat man left us in the middle of the sea and we wanted to change the boat. At that time my husband drowned in water and died due to the rough sea. We could not proceed to India afterwards. So we came back to Sri Lanka. Those days I went through lot of trauma and difficulties in maintaining my family life with the three children.”

Caritas Mannar-Valvuthayam chose her to take part in its Promoting Healing and Reconciliation program an initiative to promote peace, following Sri Lanka’s civil war of 1983-2009.

Tamils and Sinhala are encouraged to learn each other’s languages and hold inter-religious commemoration services where families of the formerly opposing parties can mourn the loss of their loved ones and acknowledge the pain and grieving of others.

I am now able to relate with others especially with our Sinhala brothers and sisters whom we met during our exposure visit."

Inter-ethnic exposure visits also bring people from the predominantly Sinhala south of Sri Lanka to visit Tamil villages in the country’s north and east and vice-versa. Visitors stay in the houses of their hosts, sharing meals and spending time together.

For Daisy, the program was life-changing.

“This was the turning point in my life to see my real self-worth and I appreciate my womanhood. I feel I am able to forgive and forget the past events and accept my husband’s death. I am now able to relate with others especially with our Sinhala brothers and sisters whom we met during our exposure visit,” says Daisy.

“Now I can promote tolerance and understanding by allowing other ethnic groups to hear each other’s grievances and suffering. I can provide a safe and impartial forum for the mediation and resolution of grievances.”

Changing perspectives

Twenty-seven year old, Mary Anitta from Maniyanthottam, has also benefitted from the program.

Along with her parents and siblings, she was displaced in 1998, due to the war and returned to her village in 2010.

“As a young girl, I underwent so many hardships due to the war and displacement and I faced a lot of challenges which were risks to my life which led me to develop a prejudiced attitude against Sinhalese and other religious people,” Anitta says.

Now I am taking lot of time to change the attitude of our village community towards peace and reconciliation. ."
Mary Anitta

She was involved in an exposure visit to Kurunegala, the capital city of North Western province.

“I had an opportunity to meet and have discussions with Sinhala people. I understood that they were also affected by the conflict situations indirectly and they too have faced many difficulties in life,” says Anitta.

“There were people who lost their loved ones due to the unfortunate incidents during the period of war. We were able to communicate with them with the knowledge of Sinhala we have gained through the language classes conducted by Caritas Hudec-Jaffna.”

“I found that even our cultures do not have many differences. This change of perception shifted my paradigm. Now I am relaxed and I do not have any prejudice against Sinhalese or other religious communities. I must thank Caritas Hudec-Jaffna for providing opportunities for me to collaborate with other ethnic and religious people.”

“Now I am taking lot of time to change the attitude of our village community towards peace and reconciliation.  And I hope initiatives as this would continue to change the hearts and minds of many others who are in need,” says Anitta.

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