29 October 2012: In Jaffna, northern Sri Lanka, 400 student leaders, from all backgrounds and parts of the country, came together to unite for peace, an event unthinkable just five years ago.

They bring together young people to share one platform and to act as one voice.
In 2009 Sri Lanka finally emerged from a 30 year ethnic conflict that had ravaged the island. Many have since endeavoured to cement the peace and recover from the damage the war wrought on the everyday lives of Sri Lanka's people. Young people were one of the groups most neglected as a result of the conflict. They were left confused about the war and without hope for the future. One local peacebuilding organisation that is attempting to find a solution for both these dilemmas is Sri Lanka Unites (SLU).

SLU is a youth-centred organisation that, over the last four years, has successfully managed and hosted many conferences focusing on reconciliation. The message behind the group revolves around building trust among young people and their peers, regardless of ethnicity and religion.

Such a powerful message attempts to mobilise and empower young people and SLU see it's Future Leaders Conferences (FLC) as vital. They bring together young people from different parts of the island who would never have met otherwise, to share one platform and to act as one voice.

The FLC this year was held in Jaffna, and is poignant because such a feat would have been unthinkable just 5 years ago when the war was ongoing. For many attendees this conference was their first exposure to Northern Sri Lanka. This is especially important because research shows that over 70% of Sri Lankan young people do not have a friend outside their ethnic or religious group.

An oasis that rekindled their passion for lasting peace, justice, equality and reconciliation
The lack of exposure to other cultures, coupled with years of inherited prejudice, makes the FLC experience crucial in the journey towards reconciliation.  This was a golden opportunity not just to learn and celebrate a shared Sri Lankan culture but also to hear the perspective of proven student leaders from across the nation.

Throughout the 5-day conference students grappled with various issues and challenges to reconciliation and change in Sri Lanka. The passion, intellect and commitment depicted by the students for conflict transformation was an assurance that violent conflict will be consigned to the past if the country continues to nourish its young people.

Over 400 student leaders, 80 volunteers, 60 teachers, 40 SLU team members from every district, ethnicity, religion, caste and creed came together to prove that a new generation dares to unite. Sri Lankans from across the nation and around the world contributed expertise and donations and hoped to be a part of the solution and contribute towards leading Sri Lanka out of decades of conflict.

They gathered in the glorious city of Jaffna, a former war zone, but now to those at FLC, an oasis that rekindled their passion for lasting peace, justice, equality and reconciliation. The hope is that the young people will appreciate diversity and realize the richness and value that can be brought from a multi-cultural harmonious nation that is united under one identity but one that respects, understands and seeks to cultivate others.

A gathering of student leaders from across the nation representing every nook and cranny of the island, not to mention 7 cities with the largest population of Sri Lankans outside Sri Lanka was a historic event. Three decades of war ensured that this was not possible to achieve, even post independence, an event intentionally geared towards celebrating an inclusive Sri Lankan identity in northern Sri Lanka organized by a non-partisan group not affiliated with the government may have never occurred. FLC was history in the making and led by a group of young professionals and brought to fruition by a team of which the average age was less than 24.

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Comments

Anurug Chakma on Nov. 1, 2012, 7:39 p.m.

Young peoples are considered as change-maker because of their youth, new ideas and unlimited energy. This truth established again in the bloody land of Jaffna through the efforts of SLU. I would like to draw the attention of future leaders that this is just a new beginning and must continue it for ultimate destination, peaceful and harmonious society.

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