Nine Beyond Borders members (BBites) are just back from spending time with about 100 teenagers from 8 districts in Sri Lanka as part of the "Kids in Touch" Peace Camp held in Wariyapola from December 8–10. The project was a joint initiative of Sarvodaya and the British Council, and aimed to facilitate communication and foster mutual understanding between young people from the ages of 14 to 19, across Sri Lanka.
The camp was a part of a series of leadership and team building workshops during the last couple of months in the participant's home districts. The theme for the camp – peace – was chosen collectively by the district youth groups from which the participants come from. The participants came from Anuradhapura, Nuwara Eliya, Kandy, Hambantota, Monaragala, Gampaha, Ratnapura and Trincomalee. They represented all religious, ethnic and linguistic identities of the country.
The 3 day camp had a combination of sessions on issues related with peace – identity, stereotypes, conflict transformation, critical thinking, social activism, with more lighter things in life like evening cricket (and rugby, football, volleyball), Baila-sessions, paintings, and a cultural night around a fire with performances from every District. The BBites strongly felt that learning should be fun, inclusive, and participatory – so there were no lectures or lengthy monologues (there might have been a couple!), the learning was primarily through activities and discussions.
They felt that the best way to "teach" this kind of topics, was not to teach at all, but instead, for the facilitator to become just that – a facilitator – an explorer, if you will, and walk with the "students" and not ahead of them, getting them to come up with the answers and maybe get them to see what you see.
The BBites learnt a lot too – as one of them put it, he has new found respect for his 7th grade teacher! Handling a bunch of 100 noisy teenagers is tough work but besides that, they did an exercise where they split the group into districts and asked them to write the 10 most pivotal events for Sri Lanka since independence. The disparity between the Trincomalee – version of history and most of the rest told its own story, something space constraints prevent us from relating here. Suffice to say that they have a long way to go and lot of work to do.
The idea of this sort of camp, according to the members of Beyond Borders, is to get young people to think about social issues in more depth and develop a more holistic understanding of subjects such as peace, conflict and identity. "More often, most of us have a general idea of what these terms mean, we hear them quite often but rarely do we take the time to actually think this deep into these things or learn more about them and that's what this camp was all about – creating a space for these teenagers to think through things and experiment with alternative ways of thinking at problems and breaking stereotypes and misconceptions," said one of the members.
So the million dollar question is, do these actually work? Will this bring peace? Frankly, the members of Beyond Borders don't know, though they certainly hope it will help, and studies have shown that interventions like these do have an impact. As they put it "We do think "change" is possible and we believe that sustainable change can only come through an evolutionary process rather than a revolutionary one. “We also think that change can come through young people not only because "we are the future" (like many adults like to think of us) but also because, we are the present."
Beyond Borders is a youth-led, youth-run voluntary organization working for change. To find out more about the camp and the work they do visit their blog http://beyondborders.wordpress.com or drop them an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. They are supported by the British Council Colombo office.