They were all university students and they had come together with a firm agenda. On September 25, representatives from Moratuwa, Sri Jayawardenapura, Colombo, Kelaniya and Jaffna Universities headed to Thulhiriya for SiThEn 2, a three-day workshop conducted by the British Council. Their aim? To build an intercultural dialogue under the theme of Unity in Diversity.
SiThEn 2 is the second workshop conducted under this theme and its name uses the first two letters of the three main races in the country; Sinhala, Thamil and English.
“Youth as Agents of Change” being the motto, the workshop’s aim is to celebrate diversity and forge partnerships in creating space for healthy and productive dialogue between communities, while exploring opportunities of working together for dialogue as a larger network of university students.
“SiThEn” is a youth-based initiative to promote dialogue amongst the various cultures, explained Sanjeevani Munasinghe, Deputy Manager, Programme Delivery of British Council.
“But such dialogue can only take place in an environment where youth are willing to act as agents for change. In most universities and the country as a whole there is a growing sense of apathy amongst youth towards anything which is not (or what is perceived not to be) directly relevant to them. Unfortunately intercultural dialogue is one of these areas,” she said.
“If SiThEn is to be successful in the long run it is important that we not only create a network of students, but also such a network should include students who believe they can make a difference,” she added.
The workshop included games, cultural/ aesthetic activities, audio and visual resources such as movies and documentaries, debates and a forum theatre. The students later said that they were united group-wise forgetting their cultural differences.
“We were more concerned about winning as groups. We realized by practice that if we forget, at least for a while, that we represent a certain culture and think that we are one team, we can work together to develop the country,” Kosala Wickramasekara, a final year student of Colombo University said adding that though she had heard people saying the same thing for years, she felt it for the first time.
Arjuna Thillainathan, a student of Jaffna University Law Faculty said that when they heard that a few Sinhalese students had been selected to their University, they had high hopes of welcoming them warmly and making them feel comfortable in Jaffna. Unfortunately, those students never came. He added that since they hardly get to know people from other ethnicities, the workshop was a great opportunity.
It does not end here. There would be a next step in the project focusing on sustainability of the themes discussed in the workshop as well.