Dishani Senaratne is a peacebuilder from Sri Lanka. After participating in an online consultation on the topic of youth and peacebuilding, she was invited to attend a series of events at the UN High Level Political Forum in New York in July. We spoke to Dishani about her experience, and what she gained from the visit.
Dishani is the Project Director of Writing Doves – a non-profit organisation in Sri Lanka which aims to promote intercultural understanding among children in war-affected areas through collecting their stories, which are published in three languages.
“In April, 2019, I contributed to a three-day online consultation convened by Peace Direct and United Network of Young Peacebuilders (UNOY) that focused on young peacebuilders’ insights and experiences on several issues. The themes included deconstructing the role of youth in peacebuilding, moving towards empowerment and inclusion and investing in youth peacebuilding activities.
During this online forum, many young peacebuilders (including myself) expressed their viewpoints and shared good practices as well as lessons learnt. Our discussions culminated in the launch of a report entitled ‘Youth and Peacebuilding’ by Peace Direct and UNOY in June 2019, which emphasised the initiatives of local peacebuilders across the globe. Subsequently, I was invited to attend a series of events that were held in parallel to the UN High Level Political Forum (HLPF) in New York.
As this was my first visit to the US, I was both excited and nervous. Along with Christian Cirhigiri, a peacebuilder from DR Congo, the founder of Peacemaker 360 and the principal author of the report ‘Youth and Peacebuilding,’ I shared my experiences with policy makers, practitioners, activists and researchers. Not only that, alongside the Peace Direct team, Christian and I had interactive discussions with Congress representatives. It was indeed a rare opportunity that enabled us to discuss the realities on the ground from the contexts in which we work. On the other hand, the Peace Talks that were held in Washington DC by Peace Direct, had attracted many youths who were interested in promoting peace but needed some helping hand to do so.
As someone who believes in the power of the individual to make a safer world, I was truly overwhelmed by their choice to become active citizens in their own different ways. On the whole, the engaging conversations that I had with fellow peacebuilders restored my faith in my work, especially against the backdrop of the 2019 April Easter bombings in Sri Lanka. Building connections does not mean swapping business cards. Instead, I hope to maintain relationships based on trust and mutual understanding and will cherish my memories with the many peacebuilders whom I met both in Washington DC and New York.
On the whole, the experiences that I gained from attending the side events of the HLPF impelled me to realise that I’m not alone in my effort to promote peace through my writing and research. Meeting fellow young peacebuilders who promote peace against all odds was one of the highlights of my visit. For instance, I met a young peacebuilder from Egypt who continues to stand for justice and human rights in a climate of surveillance and state oppression. His passion to bridge the gap between communities made me question my own position and urged me to push my boundaries and work together to achieve peace. On the contrary, I experienced an unmistakable sense of wonder during some of the larger official meetings. From the perspective of a local peacebuilder, it would be great to see high level forums that focus more on the root causes of violence and the complex issues that the world grapples with.
“I met a young peacebuilder from Egypt who continues to stand for justice and human rights in a climate of surveillance and state oppression. His passion to bridge the gap between communities made me question my own position and urged me to push my boundaries and work together to achieve peace.”
The sudden death of fellow peacebuilder from Somalia, Abdullahi Isse, came as a real shock while we were attending a session at the UN Headquarters in New York. Even though I have never met him in person, I could barely comprehend that he had departed this chaotic world. I tried my best to put together my broken spirit in honour of this amazing peacebuilder who made the choice to live in Somalia during trying times. Isse, you will be missed. Rest in power, Sir!
Thank you Peace Direct for making good things happen. Of course, the beginning of all things are small.”
Pictures by Vahe Mirikian
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