They make achieving unity a reality
From heading large corporates, to attending meetings and delivering lectures, the 18 professionals who make up the board of trustees of the Unity Mission Trust have their hands full. However, they also make the time to voluntarily work on what they see as an investment in Sri Lanka’s future.
The Unity Mission Team has come a long way since its inception in 2009 following the end of the war. Launched in the latter part of 2011, the Trust recently concluded the fifth Ekamuthu Oray Makkal Unity Camp with the aim of fostering reconcilliation, unity and healing amongst Sri Lankan youth.
“Some of these children never knew a life without war. It is now important that they move forward,” says Chairman of the Trust and Former Chief of Staff, Sri Lanka Army, Maj. Gen. (Rtd) Lohan Goonewardena.
The camps are held with the view of helping to erase feelings of mistrust and build confidence amongst the youths. The message of unity is spread by providing an ideal setting where the young participants can discover that there are no differences amongst them; that they are all the same.
“They meet their counterparts from other parts of the country and many a firm friendship is built,” says Maj. Gen. Goonewardena.
An effective way of building bridges and nurturing unity among different ethnicities is to learn each other’s language. Maj. Gen. Goonewardena pointed out that while many institutions conduct foreign language courses in Sri Lanka, classes in Sinhala in the North and East and classes in Tamil in the South are sadly lacking.
“Many of the children from the North and East were visiting other parts of the country for the first time,” he added, referring to the fifth camp which was held in Kandy in October, in order to provide the children from the North and East the opportunity of seeing other parts of their motherland.
“They were very excited as many of them were going to Kandy for the first time,” says Lakmali Nanayakkara, a trustee of the Unity Mission Trust.
For Lakmali the camp proved to be an eye-opener on a personal level. Unity Camp Five was the first time that she visited the camp and she says that she realised to what a great extent “such exchange and interaction is indeed needed amongst the youth.”
Through various activities- arts and crafts sessions, a noisy tug of war or a closely contested drama competition that also focused on capacity building and leadership, as well as sports, drama, singing and oratorical competitions the children’s potential and talents were brought out.
The participants chosen for the camp were handpicked from various schools across the country. They are students who are leaders in their schools, with the ability to influence their peers.
“We hope that these children will go back and pass on the message of unity and share their experiences, we hope there will be a ripple effect,” shares another trustee, Executive Director of the Polytechnic Ltd, Ramola Sivasundaram.
“Such initiatives in fostering unity are very important and a completely new dimension is introduced to the lives of these children,” adds Founder, Janashakthi Insurance PLC, Chandra Schaffter who is a trustee.
“The project is getting stronger, the impact made is bigger and we are achieving a lot,” enthuses co-coordinator and Trustee, Bertal Pinto-Jayawardena.
The trustees also hope to continue working towards moulding these youth into confident and capable future leaders.
“Identifying and focusing on children with leadership qualities and talents and giving them further exposure to develop those skills especially in cases where they are unable to obtain that exposure on their own, will perhaps be something we’ll have to focus on,” says trustee Anushya Coomaraswamy speaking of their plans for the future.
Creating awareness regarding the importance of fostering unity and healing and raising funds to finance the projects is vital. “The lack of funds is a barrier. If we have more funds, we can do so much more,” says Mr. Schaffter.
This is echoed by the other trustees too who all feel that with more resources at their disposal, they can reach further and have a larger impact.
“Nurturing unity and healing and building such bridges of friendship are of immense importance,” emphasises Founder Trustee, Shyamala Pinto-Jayawardena.
The feedback received after the fifth camp has been heartening. “Many spoke of how they have been inspired to continue their studies, while others expressed their determination to learn each other’s language regretting that they did not learn it much earlier,” says Bertal.
The Ministry of Education granted permission for selected National Schools to participate for the first time in Unity Camp Five and he hopes to see more participation in the future.
The trustees are backed by a strong team of young volunteers who work tirelessly around the clock to ensure that the camps and other related projects are conducted smoothly.
In order to ensure continuity, a network of former campers – the ‘Zoom-In’ project – has also been introduced. This provides a platform for former campers to further strengthen the bonds as well as offering personalised career guidance and assistance with job placements and interviews.
The first ‘Zoom-In’ workshop was held in September this year and the next workshop will be held in December for former campers in the Western Province. Enhancing leadership skills, motivating the students through speeches by guest speakers and inspiring personal capacity growth will be the focus at these workshops.
“We will be holding similar workshops in Vavuniya, Mullaitivu, Mannar, Killinochchi and Jaffna too,” says Bertal.
For more information on the Unity Mission see www.unitymission.lk mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ‘Unity Mission Trust’ on facebook.
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