This huge New Year festival happened just last week in the remote village of Keledivuluwela and for the first time 70 young people from Tamil and Muslim backgrounds travelled to share the festivities with the Sinhalese locals from the nearby villages.
Young people in Sri Lanka have grown up in a bloody civil war and their communities have been divided by a lifetime of violence. Although the government announced a military victory in May 2009, divisions of ethnicity, religion and language remain and it is vital these are addressed so they do not sow the seeds for militancy in the generation to come.
The Young Visionary (YV) project is a national youth network working to promote peace and reject violence. At the end of 2009 forty young people from Tamil, Sinhalese Buddhist and Muslim backgrounds had been trained as Young Visionaries – and in the first few months of this year they have been joined by a further 195 young people. Throughout February and March the Young Visionaries attended workshops across the country to explore the root causes of the conflict that has threatened their communities for so long, and develop projects to address those conflicts.
The New Year festival was organised by the YV group in Anuradhapura and was a celebration of the diversity in Sri Lanka. It was a beautiful sunny day and religious leaders from each of the three communities came to bless the festivities, whilst the young people and the villagers shared many traditional games and music. After 25 years of brutal civil war that has left an estimated 70,000 people dead, this simple festival is a huge achievement and just shows the potential of the Young Visionaries to promote social change and build a future not divided by the past.