Come November, a floating community of about 1,000 passengers who embarked on an educational peace voyage from Japan will arrive in Sri Lanka.
Known as the Peace Boat, it is a Japan-based international NGO which was started in 1983 by a group of university students promoting peace, human rights and development across the globe. Todate it has organised about 60 regional and global journeys.
Ayumu Shimada who facilitates the Peace Boat's land operations prior to its arrival in a particular country, during his brief stay in Sri Lanka last week told the Sunday Times that each passenger's objective when deciding to get on board differs- for young ones it is for educational purposes while there are those who join the voyage for sightseeing etc. One cruise travels for about 90 days covering about 15-20 countries.
According to him, most of the passengers are following the Global University programme which targets young Japanese who are interested in becoming peace activists, NGO workers etc. With this objective, the boat travels to war-affected countries like Colombia, Spain and Sri Lanka. Prior to embarking on the journey, the students on this programme are given lectures on the conflict, its history, the people affected due to the conflict, etc. Once they arrive, they tour the country to gain a first hand impression.
The Peace Boat which is scheduled to arrive in Sri Lanka on November 9 this year will have some 1000 passengers, mostly Japanese, 50 peace workers and 300 crew members comprising Indonesian, American and Philippine nationals. "We have been to Sri Lanka about four times previously but this is going to be the first visit after three years. Right now the ship is somewhere in the Middle East," Ayumu said adding that while sailing from Singapore to Sri Lanka human rights lawyer Mario Gomez will brief them about the country.
On arrival they will take in attractions like Kandy, the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, Colombo, Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte in addition to their planned visit to Puttalam. A programme with students of the Kelaniya university as part of a cultural exchange and language learning effort is also included.
"We will conduct workshops on Japanese tea ceremonies, kimono draping etc for local students while they in return would share their experience on Sri Lankan dance, draping the saree, et. This is pure interaction and exchange," Ayumu Shimada explained. The mission is also expected to visit a girls' orphanage in the outskirts of Colombo and distribute items such as school bags, shoes, books, clothes, etc.
The boat also supports the Hibakusha Project. "The term refers to atomic bomb survivors. The Peace Boat thinks it is important to disseminate the message of atomic bomb survivors across the globe. Their average age is about 76 years now, so we invite them to join us to go around the world. On a previous tour, we had about 103 such survivors on board and at each port they spoke of their experiences. What they promote is a world without nuclear weapons," he said.