Four years on from Sri Lanka’s civil war, tensions remain between ethnic and religious groups and threaten to prevent a lasting peace. To bridge these bitter divides, the Young Visionaries are a network of local young people running community projects that mix together Muslims, Sinhalese and Tamils – replacing prejudice with understanding, hatred with friendship. Here’s a day in the life of one Young Visionary, Wathsala Nayana, told in her own words. Wathsala is 21 years old, from a village of Sinhala Buddhists.
8am: Before school I meet with 15 Young Visionaries to talk about our visit last month to a Tamil school in the next village. The war kept our communities apart and, even after the war, we were cautious and made no effort to unite. When we first started a YV centre in our village, we started a relationship with the Tamil village. We invited children from their school to take part in our Children’s Day celebrations and, from that day onwards, we have been inviting each other for special occasions in our villages.
Last year we went to that school when they invited us for an auspicious ceremony of constructing a new building. When we saw the poor state of the school, we decided to come back and help them make it better. So 27 of us, with three carpenters, went last month and repaired broken furniture and cleaned up the neglected playground and garden, which were overgrown and unsafe for young children. Most of us ourselves are from poor farming families. But all of us contributed with whatever little we can manage and took care of the expenses of travelling and repairs. We also prepared sweets and shared them with the teachers and parents there. It was a wonderful experience to work with them together.
As the next step, today we decide to take another team, including more carpenters, and go again to paint the school and repair its furniture.
10 am: An architect from Colombo comes to show us a miniature model of the new YV centre that we plan to build in our village. He is designing it for a nominal amount, and the local house builders have volunteered to build it. At the moment we use a room in the Buddhist temple as our centre. A new building will allow us to work without disturbing the temple-goers. We will be able to conduct more classes for youth, and have our own space to meet, play and plan community work.
12 noon: I attend a Tamil language class at the Centre with 22 other young people from my village. I really want to learn to speak Tamil, ever since meeting with Tamil and Muslim youth on a YV visit to Thirukkovil, a village whose people were mostly displaced during the war. Next month we are expecting a visit from them, they will stay with our families for two days. I hope I will be able to improve my Tamil by then!
1 pm: I share lunch that I have brought from home with three YV friends. It is milk, rice and dry fish curry, my favourite. My friends and I are volunteering to teach IT for 37 village children aged 12-13. Knowing how to use computers allows us to share news and photos with the Thirukkovil YV Centre. My friend shared her brother’s wedding photos. Though we cannot meet each other often or speak each other’s language, it is really good to keep in touch through emails.
2 pm: I go to visit Maheshika, a 12-year-old orphan who attends our computer class. She lives with her frail, old grandparents in a one-roomed shack made out of mud and bricks with a broken roof and a makeshift door. We are building her a small house as part of our community service. I go with eight of my friends from the YV group, to see if she is doing well or needs anything. We take her some dry rations including rice, sugar, coconuts and dhal collected from the local community, and a school bag and shoes donated by our Colombo office. She tells us how she is progressing in school, and how she recently cut her finger with a blade when she ploughed a neighbour’s field to earn some pocket money.
6 pm: I go home, wash and help my mother to prepare dinner. My family sit in our kitchen for the evening meal of coconut rotti and onion sambol. I help with the washing up and then sit with my mother and sisters to talk about the day.
8 pm: I help my two younger sisters with their studies. They are aged 8 and 11. Then I do a little of my own studying, as I am preparing to sit for my Advance Level exams again this year.
Wathsala Nayana is a member of the Young Visionaries project, which is run by our peacebuilding partner CPBR, the Center for Peacebuilding and Reconciliation.