Sri Lanka is known as the pearl of the Indian Ocean, renowned for its warm skies and welcoming scenery. One conclusion I can draw upon, after having spent ten days touring the country, is that its welcoming scenery and warm skies is matched by the welcoming warmth of its people.
It was a truly action packed week, which had its ups and downs, not least during some of the bumps on the road to Jaffna! I knew that I would be learning, and developing behavioural skills during the exchange and this certainly lived up to expectation. The learning mostly took the form of knowledge, knowledge about Sri Lankan people, history and culture. Behavioural skills were developed during the many sessions and meetings that took place over the week.
We visited many different places; Parliament, Colombo University, Jaffna, Anuradhapura, various NGO’s and the National Youth Services Council building.
Many of the conversations that took place were with other young people and I enjoyed asking people questions to find out what issues mattered to them and what life was really like. These interactions and conversations allowed the group to pull together a presentation in which we recommended a number of policies, which if implemented, would improve the lives of young people in both Sri Lanka and the UK. The themes explored where Youth unemployment, Youth participation in politics, gender issues, and health issues. Even though, Sri Lanka and the UK are different countries, both have challenges on all of these issues.
The thing I enjoyed most about the week was getting to know other people on the exchange. This included getting to really know the other Young Leaders from across the UK. We all come from different backgrounds, bringing expertise from our different experiences in life. This diverse background ensured that the team was effective and everybody enjoyed playing the role as team leader.
Having an interest in Economics, I noticed the vast amount of building work going on all around me. Infrastructure is being upgraded and the economy is growing at one of the quickest rates of any country in Southern Asia. It was interesting to hear about the part that young people are playing in this and the opportunities that could exist in the future.
Sri Lanka is emerging from a 30 year civil war. Being from Northern Ireland, I was only too aware of some of the similarities of the conflict that happened in our two nations. There is still much work to be done, but Sri Lanka is taking steps towards peace and reconciliation. One problem is language. The two communities find it hard to communicate with one another. It was encouraging to hear steps being taken to break down this language barrier.
In the Civil war, everybody and everything suffered. In war there can be no winners. But, the youth of Sri Lanka can be winners. They can be winners by ensuring that Sri Lanka does not step backwards into its past of conflict. They can promote a positive vision of the future in which all the people of Sri Lanka can buy into. One thing I am sure of is that if the Sri Lankan Young Leaders on the exchange have anything to do with it, the country is in safe hands.