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The South Asia Policy and Research Institute (SAPRI) is a not for profit, non-partisan ‘Think Tank’ whose focus is the study of issues relating to political, economic, social, cultural and environmental topics in South Asia, and, making recommendations to be implemented through an advocacy process at the policy making level as well as at the grassroots level. SAPRI was established in February 2010 under the Chairmanship of Madame Chandrika Kumaratunga, former President of Sri Lanka. It has a Board of Directors comprising eminent Sri Lankan and South Asian experts.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Reconciliation at Grassroots led by Women Local Government Members: Way forward by transferring ownership to communities A project of SAPRI, supported by the Netherlands Embassy, 2021-22

 Following the project completed in September 2022, SAPRI devoted the following period, October 2022 onwards, to carry forward the concluded project by transferring ownership to the key participants of the projects and encouraging them to assume leadership roles, and, in turn transfer ownership to the communities.

During the post-project period, SAPRI was pleased to see the realization of the project aspirations without SAPRI’s direct involvement and the targets SAPRI and the funding Embassy looked forward to becoming realities.

Women Local Government Members (WLGM) in the four project districts, Ampara; Galle; Kurunegala; and Vavuniya led their respective communities in conducting varying programs with the objectives of empowering women; and building unity and harmony.

While reporting to SAPRI the successful outcomes of their respective projects, the stakeholders commended SAPRI for the skills development and capacity building provided to them and the training they received from SAPRI which motivated them to go to the community with confidence and engage the communities of varying background; ages; gender; religions; ethnicities; etc and achieve positive results.

Attached are the Reports of the following activities conducted in Sinhala and Tamil, which were translated into English and edited by the SAPRI staff.

1.      Building entrepreneurship among women in the community                            

2.      Empowerment of Women: Awareness Raising on Women’s Rights in Divorce                                                                                                                                                 

3.      Developing the bond between parents and children

4.      Awareness raising workshop on “Violence against Women”   

5.      Empowering women in the community                                                      

6.      Economic empowerment of women                                                           

7.      Empowerment of the Elderly in the Community                                                        

8.      Vesak Bakthi Gee (Devotional Songs) by Children of Multiple Religions

9.      Iftar event for youth to mark the Ramadhan Festival

10.  Iftar event for Adults, Youth and Students                                                

11.  Introducing Thai Pongal to pre-school students                                        

12.   Pre-school concert item introducing different ethnicities & religions                          

13.  Muslim and Sinhala Youth offering food together during Vesak                   

14.  Celebration of Esala Poya Day with participants from multiple religions                                                                     

15.  Celebrating the Diwali Festival                                                                     

16. Reconciliation through Street Drama


Activity 1 – Building entrepreneurship among women in the community                                          Led by former Local Govt Member Ms. Sithy Niloofa

                               

District- Ampara                                                                                                                                        

Date and venue- Training in entrepreneurship from 1 June to 31 July 2023, in different locations in Samanthurai Pradeshiya Sabha area

Participation- 40 Women in Samanthurai

 

Objective - The program had four targets, i.e., enhancing women’s entrepreneurship; reconciliation leading to unity in the village; addressing domestic violence; and the elimination of the use of drugs. The proposal to establish a new market was the core of the program, to steer the achievement of the four objectives. The venture is being closely monitored for a three-month period by the trainers of the program.

Description of activity – Training in entrepreneurship was conducted from 1 June to 31 July 2023, in different locations in Samanthurai Pradeshiya Sabha area. The hands-on training focused on developing entrepreneurship skills of the selected 40 community women and thereafter enabling them to be competent on running a new market that was to be set up, to be run by women, with the sale of products of women given priority. 

Outcome - With the training in entrepreneurship that the women received they were able to handle the work of the market with confidence and competence. Therefore, the market became a successful venture economically. A requirement of the program being multi-religious participation in the venture, the program was leading to reconciliation and unity in the village. The independence and financial stability gained by the women entrepreneurs strengthened their personalities and they were able to handle domestic violence situations better than previously. The training also provided the women participants with knowledge in drug abuse; their negative effects; and prevailing legal measures, to initiate measures to control the use of drugs in their communities.  


Activity 2- Empowerment of Women: Awareness Raising on Women’s Rights in Divorce                                                                                                                                                                     Led by Former Local Govt Member Ms. Sithy Niloofa



District – Ampara

Date and venue- 10 June 2023 for 6 months, Samanthurai Pradeshiya Sabha area                                    

Participation- 30 Women Leaders from Key Women’s Organisations in the area, were selected for training after careful evaluation.

Objective- Awareness Raising of their legal rights during a divorce process for women who are in divorce proceedings in Samanthurai.

Description of Event- The 30 women leaders who were selected for training have 2-day workshops in theory, and, practical measures related to legal rights of potential women divorcees. After their training is over, the 30 women leaders will spread out and conduct programs for women who are contesting divorce proceedings across Samanthurai.

Outcome- The program is ongoing. The outcome is expected to be empowering women who are in divorce proceedings in Samanthurai by raising awareness of their legal rights. This process will be a confidence building measure for the women activists as well and will give them a morale boost in handling matters in an assertive manner.


Activity 3– Developing the bond between parents and children

Led by Local Govt Member Toroshani Niluka Sooriyaarachchi



District- Ampara

Date and venue- May 2023, Ampara Hotel

Participation-  50 parents and their children, ages 14 -18, from Sinhala and Muslim communities

Objective- In view of the increasing abuse of children in the communities and the children going astray due to unstable home environments, an event was organized to enhance the bond between parents and children, by identifying prevailing issues and shortcomings that obstruct their required close relationship, and, seeking measures to build a close parent-children link, leading to a reduction of child abuse. The activity intended to emphasis to both parents and children the importance of their close association and the negative repercussions due to the absence of this vital bond.

Description of the event- The activity took place as a seminar at Ampara Hotel. The participants were addressed by Mr. Prageeth Lasantha, a leading Psychologist, on the necessity for a close parent-children relationship. The participants thereafter sat as a group in a circle for an interactive session. Through carefully crafted questions the Psychologist elicited from the parents and the children, the manifestations/instances of lack of respect towards each other and the occasions when each party felt an absence in the carriage of duties towards them by the other party. The participants thereafter were called upon to articulate what they considered as necessary ingredients to build trust and confidence to maintain a parent-children bond.

Outcome- A series of recommendations emanated from the seminar for fostering a better relationship between parents and children, and, the participants expressed their commitment to adhere to those recommendations to maintain a better children-parents relationship.  The children spoke on the level of security they felt by being close to their parents, as well as the confidence they gained to talk with their parents on any issue threatening their well-being. The parents too gained an insight into winning the children’s confidence and maintaining a close link with them, to avoid negative instances thereafter.


 Activity 4- Awareness raising workshop on “Violence against Women”                   Led by former Local Govt. Member Toroshani Niluka Sooriyaarachchi    

 



Amapara District

Date and venue- On International Women’s Day (March 8th) 2023, at Ampara Hotel                        

Participants- around 30 women participants (age 25-55)

Objective- To mark the International Women’s Day while creating awareness on, Violence against Women; the means of identifying when violence is perpetrated;  avoiding and handling  such challenges; measures to handle perpetrators legally; and knowledge of legal measures.

Description of the event- The program was organized in conjunction with International Women's Day. Its main objective was to educate rural women on instances of violence against women that are not even noticed or considered as violence as most rural women were not aware that they were being subject to violence even at home.  As most women in rural areas like Ampara are not adequately educated they are not aware of their legal rights. The activity was the first step in addressing the issue and the organizers intended to follow up with similar awareness raising sessions in the future.

Outcome- The participant women becoming aware that violence against them can be perpetrated at almost any place, eg. public locations, public transportation or even at home. They also became aware of what steps to take in such situations to protect themselves and to bring the perpetrators before justice. The activity instilled the confidence in them to go to the Police Station and/or the Child & Women Protection Authorities and make a complaint. The participant women expressed their desire to share the knowledge they gained with other women in the community, thereby disseminating the information to a wider range of women.


Activity 5 – Empowering women in the community                                                       Led by former Local Govt Member Ms. Indra Irangani

 

Ms. Indra Irangani speaks on ‘ Necessity to include sex education in school curriculum Facebook link- https://fb.watch/mwjOmpiheA/?mibextid=cr9u03

Galle   District                                                                                                                                      

Date and venue- From July 2023 (ongoing program), in Ambalangoda electoral district

Participants- Girls and women, approximately 50 participants for each activity

Objective – To empower women in the community economically and through building their self-esteem. The activity organizers expected to raise the economic level of the community women through the introduction of self-employment avenues and thrifty measures. They also attempted to enhance the awareness of the women participants towards violence against women, child abuse, and, women’s and children’s rights.

Description of activity- Conducted as workshops within Divisional Secretariat areas. Trained Women Activists were the resource persons. The workshops focused on two areas, 1) introduction of self-employment means, enabling the participant women to be financially independent, resulting in their enhanced self-confidence 2) Building awareness on topics such as violence against women, child abuse, women’s and children’s rights, etc.

The workshops provided a venue to the participants to have collective dialogue through which they were able to share their experiences, focus on preventive means and discuss remedial measures.

Outcome - Increased awareness among women on the economic challenges they may face in the society and how to overcome them, and, motivating the participants towards actively contributing to protect women’s and children’s rights.


Activity 6- Economic empowerment of women                                                            Led by former Local Govt. Member Ms. Irosha Chandani

  


District- Galle

Date and venue- Since 2021, ongoing, Rathgama

Participation- 10 carefully selected financially unstable women. Age between 20 -55

Objective - Former Local Govt. Member Ms. Irosha initiated the activity to financially empower a group of economically destitute women in her community by introducing to them small scale self-employment projects.

Description of activity- Self-employment initiatives such as making, ekel brooms; coconut charcoal; candles; etc. were introduced to the group of economically deprived women in order to teach them a new skill and enable them to make a living. In some instances, their contribution was only to a part of the work, such as providing raw material for the products, eg. collecting/purchasing coconut shells and selling the items for the production of coconut charcoal.

Outcome – Gaining skills towards self-employment and learning marketing skills for handling the sale of their products. The result is the development of their financial stability as well as that of their families.

 

 Activity 7 - Empowerment of the Elderly in the Community                                                       Led by former Local Govt Member Ms. Mallika Dharmasooriya

                                            

                                  

District-Galle

Date and venue- Ongoing since 2022, Working with a Women Elders’ Society, i.e., “Weeramatha Elders Society”, Dodanduwa

Participation- 62 elderly persons from both genders                                                        

Objective – Empowering the elderly persons at the “Weeramatha Elders Society” to strengthen their capacities, both physical and mental; involving the elderly in community activities, thereby boosting their confidence; and encouraging the elderly to enjoy a positive approach towards life and contribute to the community in any possible capacity.

Description of event- Supporting the elderly participants in varying activities in order to enhance their capabilities and confidence by engaging with other societies and individuals in social work, e.g., shramadana activities to keep the environment clean; preparing costumes and other items for events; organizing varying celebrations, etc.

Outcome Enhancing the capacities of the elderly persons and enabling them to have a positive approach towards life and establishing and maintaining contact by the elderly with the community. Enhanced support towards community activities has graduated them from the status of care receivers to care-givers.


Activity 8 Vesak Bakthi Gee (Devotional Songs) by Children of Multiple Religions        Led by Community Leader (Ms.) Mohamad Hilmy Noor Maziyya 

  

District- Galle                                                                                                                                Date and venue: 05.05.2023- Galle, in a moving vehicle

Participants: 16 children - Buddhist, Catholic, Muslim and Hindu (Both girls and boys)

Objective- To build harmony among a group of children belonging to the four main religions in Galle by arranging their participation in the Vesak celebration. The non-Buddhists were expected to get an exposure to Buddhism; the significance of Vesak: and Buddhist religious traditions, as well as enjoy a close intimacy with the Buddhist children during the period of rehearsals and the performance on Vesak day.

Description of Activity- The students who sang Bakthi Gee were selected from Olcott Maha Vidyalaya, Galle. The project progressed with the support of the school Principal who assigned a teacher to conduct the rehearsals with the assistance of the activity organisers. students. teachers and parents.  

After the opening ceremony attended by multi-religious dignitaries, the Bakthi Gee singers commenced their travel from the entrance of the Galle Expressway, towards the Galle Municipal Council in a specially prepared, decorated motor vehicle. They stopped at pre-arranged locations to sing for the benefit of the people awaiting them.

Outcome- The activity was well received by people of all religions and the warm welcome with which the singers were greeted was unparalleled.  The non-Buddhist students and their parents learnt about Vesak, the most sacred celebration of Buddhists. Also having spent much time together, they formed longstanding friendships. 

Prominent on this occasion was a young Muslim girl dressing up in “Lama saree”, a traditional attire among Sinhalese-Buddhist girls, with her parents, happily assisting her.   

 

Activity 9- Iftar event for youth to mark the Ramadhan Festival                                       Led by Former Local Govt Member Ms. Nishanthi Pradeepik



Mr Naazik speaking at the event-

Facebook link-  https://fb.watch/osjeWjrggD/?mibextid=Nif5oz 

District- Galle

Date and venue- 09/04/2023, Galle Fort, an outdoor event

Participation- around 50 Muslim and Buddhist youth participants, male and female, who are members of Youth Societies in Galle, Kadawath Sathara area.

Objective- To introduce to the group of non-Islamic youth present on the occasion, Ramadan, a key Islam religious celebration, its significance and its cultural manifestations, leading to awareness raising among non-Muslim youth groups on Islam religion and its traditions.

Description of event- The Iftar event was organized by Ms. Pradeepika, and the Galle Kadawath Sathara Divisional Secretariat. Ms. Pradeepika’s community member Mr Naazik and other Muslim youth provided the input into the event from a religious/cultural perspective. The interaction of Islamic and non-Islamic youth was significant on this occasion.

Outcome – Non-Islamic participants getting an exposure to the significance of Ramadan, and their direct participation in the Iftar ceremony together with the Islamic youth gave them a knowledge on the level of fraternity that exist during such events and the harmony that these     events promote.


Activity 10- Iftar event for Adults, Youth and Students                                                 Led by Former Local Govt Member Ms. Nishanthi Pradeepika

           

District Galle                                                                                                                          Date and venue- 11 April 2023. Jumma Mosque, Galle Fort

Participation- around 150 adults, youth and students belonging to all religions. A Buddhist Monk, Christian priest and Islamic Moulavis were present on invitation.

Objective- To introduce to approximately 150 persons in Galle, a predominantly Buddhist area, Ramadan, a key Islam religious celebration, its significance and cultural manifestations, leading to awareness raising and appreciation of co-existence, transcending religious boundaries.

Description of event- The event was organized by the Divisional Secretariat with former Local Govt. Member Ms. Pradeepika, playing a key role. She was instrumental in staging the event inside the Jumma Mosque in Galle Fort. The presence of a Buddhist Monk, and a Catholic priest and their blessings to the event provided added significance to the occasion.

Outcome- The participants’ exposure to an important Islamic religious event held in the mosque itself, with Buddhist and Christian clergy as well as Moulavis, was a positive outcome. Above all, the event provided an opportunity to the non-Islam participants to be welcomed inside a Mosque for the first time in their lives.


Activity 11- Introducing Thai Pongal to pre-school students                                   

Led by former Local Govt Member Ms. Sandya Kumari

 

District - Galle

Date and venue- 18/01/2023, Manula Preschool, Yakkalamulla, Galle

Participation- 30 students of the preschool (both girls and boys) and 05 mothers

Objective - To introduce to the participating pre-school students the Hindu religious celebration, Thai Pongal, its religious significance and cultural manifestations.

Description of event - The activity introducing Thai Pongal to the students was woven around the food item related to Thai Pongal, “Pongal Rice”, which was prepared at the venue by the mothers, with the children assisting.

Later they enjoyed eating the Pongal rice. Stimulated by the extremely sweet Pongal rice, the students thereafter joined their teachers and the parents in a discussion on the importance of the Thai Pongal celebration. 

Outcome - The children got exposure to the Thai Pongal festival, held, according to Hindu religion, to worship the sun for the bountiful harvest it helped to provide during the year. Thus, they learnt about a new religious tradition through Pongal Rice, a food item linked to a different culture and prepared and eaten on a specific occasion.

 

Activity 12- Pre-school concert item introducing different ethnicities & religions    Led by Former Local Govt Member Ms. Sandya Kumari     

      

District- Galle                                                                                                                                 

Date and venue- 21/12/2022, Manula Preschool, Yakkalamulla

Participation- 30 Students of the preschool (both girls and boys)

Objective – To introduce to a group of multi-religious children the main religions in Sri Lanka, i.e., Buddhism; Hindu; Christianity; and Islam, and convey to the children the religious observances of each religion and the teachings of each religion briefly.

Description of event- This was an item they presented in the school concert with effective role playing by the students.   Models of venues of religious worship, i.e., Buddhist temple, Hindu Kovil, Catholic church and Mosque built by parents were displayed on the stage.

Children were divided into five groups. Four groups were dressed up to resemble the clergy of the four main religions respectively. The fifth group resembled visitors who paid a visit to the four venues of religious worship. The students who posed as clergy at each religious venue explained to the visiting group of students the main features of the respective religion and introduced the different means of worshipping at each religious venue.   

Outcomes- Exposure to the four main religions in the country, the religious venues and means of worshipping at different religious venues, for the preschool children.


Activity 13 – Muslim and Sinhala Youth offering food together during Vesak                    Led by former Local Govt Member Ms. Gayani Deepika


Date and venue- 5th May 2023, Mummana Village, Pannala

Participation- 10 - 15 Buddhist youth and the same number of Muslim youths organized the event, about 300-350 men and women stopped by to partake of the food offered.

Objective – To pave the way for Sinhala and Muslim youth to get together in Mummana village, where ethnic/religious tension had prevailed some time back. Through the initiation of an event with the joint participation of Sinhala/Muslim youth, in a community where ethnic tension had prevailed. it was expected to restore the harmony that was visible before the tensions erupted. The activity also expected to introduce to non-Buddhists the significance of Vesak, the most sacred Buddhist religious celebration; how Vesak is celebrated in Sri Lanka; the rituals and traditions associated with the celebration.

Description of event- A Dansala (food stall) serving cookies and fruit juice free of charge to those participating in Vesak celebrations was organized by Ms. Deepika near Mummana Village, a predominantly Muslim village, assisted by Muslims as well as Buddhists in the area. The dansala was located on the way to the Buddhist temple, therefore it attracted a large number of people who stopped by to be served with food.

Outcome- Developing friendship between Muslim and Sinhala communities in Mummana area. This is considered a very positive outcome as the two communities, although they lived in harmony many years ago, in the recent past religious tension pervaded in Mummana creating hostility. The dansala paved the way for friendship and harmony to revive between the Sinhalese and the Muslims. In addition, noble intensions such as the desire to serve food to people on pilgrimage as well as the needy came to the forefront with the organizing of danasals.


Activity 14 - Celebration of Esala Poya Day with participants from multiple religions                                                                          

Led by former Local Govt Member Ms. J. A. Somawathi


District- Kurunegala

Date and venue- 1st August, 2023, Kuliyapitiya

Participation- Clergy from multiple religions; Officials of the Divisional Secretariat; Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), Kuliyapitiya and other senior Police Officers; Civil Society Members; community activists; youth and students

Objective- To introduce to a group of multireligious persons the significance of Esala Full Moon Day, the day on which Buddha preached Buddhism for the first time, in Isipathana, a small town in India. The occasion intended an amicable gathering of persons of different religions, and, besides giving an exposure to the Esala Full Moon day’s significance, it targeted the creation of friendships among those from multiple religions.

Description of event- Through a lantern built under Ms. Somawathi’s direction for the Kuliyapitiya Esala Celebration, an initiative was made to gather people of multiple religions to see the lantern.  Large numbers were present to watch the colorful opening ceremony which had the presence of Ms. Somawathi, former Local Govt Member and the Police Chief of Kuliyapitiya, as well as the beautiful lantern. The Buddhist monks present explained the significance of the occasion.

Outcome of event- Creating awareness of the Esala Full Moon Day and the preaching of the first dhamma sermon by Lord Buddha, among community members of all religions. The event witnessed new friendships forming among those that gathered on that occasion.

 

Event 15- Celebrating the Diwali Festival                                                                     

Led by Former Local Govt Member Ms. Niruba Sachiththanandan 

 

District – Vavuniya                                                                                                                       

Date and Venue- 08.11.2023 at Maha Karuna Private School, Vavuniya

Participants – Pre-school students, senior students, parents, teachers and community leaders representing all religions; government officials; and a group of Singaporeans who supported the event participated.

Objective – To introduce to the participants the Diwali celebration, a Hindu religious event, which is the festival of lights, symbolising the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance.

Description of event – All those present enjoyed the traditional lighting of lamps and partaking of Diwali food served on the occasion. Community members and the officials spoke at the event commending the introduction of a Hindu religious event to a large number of non-Hindus and emphasized that such multi-religious activities bring unity and reconciliation to the community.

Outcome – Exposure to a Hindu religious event for non-Hindus and the Singaporeans present and learning about, the victory of light over darkness, ………that the event symbolized. The children present got the experience of a new religious tradition while the Singaporeans were overwhelmed with the harmony that pervaded throughout the multi-religious event as well as the unity that emanated from the event.





Activity 16- Reconciliation through Street Drama

Led by Community Leader Vijayaseelan Sanjeewan

 
 

District- Vavuniya

Date and venue: 15th November 2023, Chettikulam Division

Participation: 10 male and female performers and approximately 300 members of the audience

Objective: To promote reconciliation through performances of street drama in Forum Theater style. Also, to enable interaction among community members of different religions. The expectation of the organizers was to promote the theme “Although people belong to different religions, they are all humans” and “they should be considered children of one mother”.

Description of Activity: The drama was performed in Forum Theater style focusing on the necessity to promote reconciliation. Its duration was 20 minutes. The plot of the drama included a group of tribals living peacefully on an island. A group of outsiders from a business community arriving on the island in search of treasure and interfering with the quiet life of the tribals causing tension among the tribals and destroying their unity.  Later the tribal leader was able to reunite the tribe and get rid of the intruders. Peace returns among the tribals.

At the end of the presentation the performers and the audience had an interactive discussion on finding gaps and improving the presentation and did so by making changes to the script.

Outcome: The close interaction among the participants, led to making new friendships, building of trust and learning about creating peace and harmony in society. Through the drama, the message of reconciliation went deep into the minds of the audience








Reconciliation at Grassroots led by Women Local Government Members: Way forward by transferring ownership to communities A project of SAPRI, supported by the Netherlands Embassy, 2021-22

  Following the project completed in September 2022, SAPRI devoted the following period, October 2022 onwards, to carry forward the conclude...