Sharing experiences at the Commonwealth Youth Forum 2013

Supported by International Alert, representatives of the volunteer-led organisation Achieve Real Change (ARC) conducted a capacity-building session at the Commonwealth Youth Forum (CYF) 2013 in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, on 12th November 2013.

The session focused on the role of diaspora youth in promoting reconciliation and social cohesion in Sri Lanka.

ARC was created following a visit supported by International Alert to Sri Lanka in March 2012, when a group of British young professionals of Sri Lankan heritage from diverse ethnic backgrounds met with MPs and policy-makers, civil society organisations and community groups to explore post-war recovery.

The group uses their skills in areas such as healthcare, business and sport to support professional development activities that promote social cohesion in Sri Lanka.

During the session ARC spoke about their experience of implementing projects, highlighting that reconciliation and social cohesion can be worked on with different actors, including at the political and the grassroots levels.

The participants in the workshop discussed the important role that civil society can play in community development and social cohesion, and the involvement of youth in this process. ARC emphasised the necessity of understanding the needs of all communities and designing context-specific projects in order to ensure positive and sustainable impacts.

Addressing the session Jayan Perera of ARC said:

“Before I came to Sri Lanka, I used to think I knew a lot about the country, through what I have read and heard on media. Once I came here I understood how different things were. There’s a need to change perceptions, and we want to influence this change. We need to open up and look at issues that need to be addressed. There are gaps that we can fill using our collective knowledge and skills. However, we can’t do this by ourselves. We need support. We should all get together to bring about a change that can affect all communities in a positive manner.”

For her part, Maynaha Indrakumar of ARC said:

Our aim is to create positive links between the UK and Sri Lanka, and we believe, that as the diaspora we can play a constructive and role in creating these links. So far we have been working with like-minded professionals from various ethnic backgrounds, in both countries to engage and bring about social cohesion. This has been a very challenging yet positive experience.”

Also participating were young Sri Lankan parliamentarians who have been involved in International Alert’s reconciliation and diaspora programme. They shared their experience of engaging diverse communities for peacebuilding in the country.

The young MPs took part in a panel discussion focused on their experiences as young policy-makers supporting post-war recovery and development. They discussed how they have done this through the engagement of diaspora communities in the UK, as well Sri Lankan civil society and senior policy-makers in the UK and Sri Lanka. These young MPs and ARC have been, and intend to continue, supporting each other in the successful implementation of their complementary initiatives.

Sharing his experiences, Shehan Semasinghe, an MP of United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA), said:

Before our first visit to the UK through the project, I had a negative impression of the term ‘diaspora’, which changed after meeting the individuals from the diaspora community. We met the diaspora from different ethnic backgrounds and shared our side of the story, and listened to their side of the story. This was a positive interaction. From our end, we also have a group representing multi-ethnic backgrounds, from different political parties. We don’t want any more fractions within the country or abroad, what we all need is one voice as Sri Lankans to take this country forward.”

Photos: 1) Constructing a 'problem tree' at CYF 2013; 2) Members of ARC (in blue) with several participants at the capacity-building session at CYF 2013; 3) Members of ARC with young Sri Lankan MPs

Read more about our work in Sri Lanka here.