One of Sarvodaya’s prime youth programs has been the Shanthi Sena volunteer plan, which aims to build peace in Sri Lanka through youth volunteer efforts. A recently-concluded project of this group has been the peace endeavors that were launched with the financial backing of AusAid, an Australian development aid organization. The Australian organization pledged 5.3 million Sri Lankan Rupees in support to the program, which ran from 2003 and culminated in July 2005 and aimed at the development of peace in the nation through the linking of youth from the north and east with youth from the south. It connected five districts in the Northern and Eastern provinces with five districts from the south and created “Peace Corp teams” out of volunteers from all the districts. These teams trained over 2,000 youth from the villages of the districts and initiated a program that linked 500 villages from the Northern and Eastern provinces with 500 villages in the south. This resulted in a pen pal friendship program between youth from the partnered villages and the development of various intercultural programs that traveled between the villages. The teams also trained selected youth in leadership skills.
One of the features of this peace development program was the peace-building story competition that it organized. The program called for entries from all over Sri Lanka of short stories in Sinhala or Tamil that promoted peace, ethnic harmony, and a better consciousness of and attitude to other ethnic groups. There were over 100 entries in each category and a panel consisting of senior lecturers in the Arts faculty of the University of Colombo judged the stories. The top three winners in each category were awarded prizes of Rs.20, 000, Rs.15, 000, and Rs.10, 000 respectively and the winning stories were collected in a publication that was printed by Sarvodaya and distributed island wide.
The peace development program culminated in a national level camp and ceremony, which spanned three days. On 26th July, the participants in the program arrived at the Sarvodaya center in Bandaragama and set up a camp there. They spent the 27th holding peace discussions. On the 28th, they conducted a one-mile march along Bauddhaloka Mawatha to the BMICH where a ceremony was held to bring an end to the two-year program. Many intercultural events were performed, speeches were conducted, and the winners of the story competition were awarded their prizes.
However, the most important event of the day was the presentation of a book that compiled together proposals put forward by the youth participants on how to build peace in Sri Lanka.
The participants came up with these proposals as a result of the experiences they garnered in the two-year program. The publication, “A Proposal of the Youth of Sri Lanka to Usher in a Period of Sustainable Peace Irrespective of Religious and Ethnic Differences,” was handed over to the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapakse, and Opposition Member of Parliament, Bandula Gunawardena, with the hope that they would take the proposals into consideration in their future efforts for peace in the island. The Deputy High Commissioner of Australia in Sri Lanka, Matthei Hyndes, was also present at the occasion.
This program was an effort by the Shanthi Sena volunteers to develop peace in Sri Lanka by bringing it to a personal level. While national and government level discussions are indispensable in creating peace in the island, Sarvodaya has not forgotten the importance of bringing together the ordinary citizens, especially the youth, into contact with each other and thereby creating the personal relationships between people from various parts of the country that are essential to the peace process. The recently-concluded program was a part of Sarvodaya’s effort in this regard and its successful conclusion is a harbinger of hope to the island.