[Editors note: This is a response to A critique of Sri Lanka Unites: Freedom has NOT made itself known]
Dear E Pluribus Unum,
Thank you for taking the time to write. We were informed of your post, but as it was soon after our successful conference our attention was focused on many post-conference follow up activities that had to be done. We were also occupied with immediately leveraging on the networks built by the students over the 5 days, to engage them in community-level reconciliation initiatives. This also included mobilizing them to collect relief packages from their communities to be sent to IDP camps in the North. We are glad to now take time to respond to some of the comments made in your article. We want to invite everyone to feel free to question or critique our efforts. We believe this is a perfect way to refine our work and be more effective. However, please do approach us directly.
This article has not grasped who we are as an organization and the content or what actually took place at the conference, yet boldly makes very provocative allegations and demands apologies. All these misconceptions would have been answered if he or she actually attended the conference and spoke to any one of us from the SLU team, rather than take a glimpse through a hand book and then take its content out of context.
We have an open invitation to anyone who wants to do more than complain, accuse or be pessimistic to join in our efforts to make a difference. We are just trying to do our part. We have much to learn and have consistently sought guidance from great role models and individuals who have gone before us. We at Sri Lanka Unites believe that we are just one of many organizations who want to make a difference and are well aware that such challenging issues as reconciliation, justice and equality needs to be approached though multiple angles. Promoting hope and reconciliation through our youth movement, and targeting youth leaders from every part of the country, is our approach.
With regards to your accusation that we are ignorant and ill informed, let me clarify that the inner circle of Sri Lanka Unites leadership is a formidable group of young Sri Lankans drawn from various fields of expertise. Political science and international relations majors, development economists, graduates of sri lankan history and culture, masters students of peace and reconciliation, lawyers, activists, marketers, medical students and accountants. All of them are well educated, and some have graduated from foreign universities and returned to contribute to the country’s development. They come not just from Colombo, as is the case with too many civil society groups, but have representatives from various parts of the country – some of our key office bearers are from Jaffna, Mannar, Puttalam and Gampaha. We are well aware of the issues and have three graduation theses on peace and reconciliation just among the committee. However, if one takes bits and pieces from a handbook out of context, I’m sure it will be possible to fabricate and make anyone look ignorant on the issues. Even worse, it will be possible to make it seem that we are unaware of the pressing needs of the people we serve.
We are very much on ground zero. We work on these issues everyday. We are not a political organization that goes about looking for loop holes, errors and complaining and fueling the â€œus against them” mentality. We have decided that there has been enough theorising. We are action-oriented. Well thought out, well-time initiatives. We will listen to arm-chair critics, but only just. We will give precedence to those who wish to engage with us on getting things done
We are a youth organization that will strive for change and make the issues and discussions on reconciliation, justice, equality and human rights that have so far been limited to mere discussion points in Colombo, anonymous articles on the web or a protest rally in the cosines of the western world, into a place for awareness and action in the hearts of the youth, at the very grassroots in Sri Lanka – whether it be in schools in Jaffna or Matara, the city or village, appealing to the heart of our common humanity and not ones’ blind political agenda.
We see no point lecturing to a 16 year old student from Matara on the importance of the full implementation of the 13th amendment and devolution of powers to the people of the North and East, if all he has heard in life is to distrust and look down upon the people of the North and East. We are about making national issues of reconciliation, integration and language more relevant to youth who have been detached from these issues. It’s all about contextualizing these issues, to be more relevant to THEIR lives.
The â€œUs against them” mentality, finger pointing and the highly politically charged activism have left this country and innocent civilians with no more freedom than terror and war has. It’s time to move to the common man and win his or her heart and persuade them to action, for love triumphs all – even the dreaded ethnic divide. We are convinced that our youth in Sri Lanka, representing all ethnicities will prove that the freedom they have to interact and work together will lead our country to a new era where there is no tolerance for hatred or inequality. Also that mere, anonymous, misinformed unconstructive words of criticism will in no way slow our pace of work. In fact, it wills fuel our passion. Articles like this reflect the most obvious failure of Sri Lankans of our parent’s eraâ€¦. the readiness to accuse, condemn and complain, while being very ignorant of the realities.
However, we are truly accepting of any constructive, informed and open critiques. We are thirsty to learn and to better serve the people; we as an organization strive to serve the youth across this land who are willing to stand up to make a difference, with an unquestionable desire to see reconciliation, hope and prosperity for all people.
We look forward to having productive discussions with you, as well as all readers of this blog, but this time, directly.
Prashan De Visser
Sri Lanka Unites