Diaspora Lanka Report : 28 September to 31 December 2013 – Part 6

3.5 Vision Mannar

Vision Mannar is a district-wide business initiative that aims to develop boutique businesses based on Mannar’s famous products for tourist and export markets: mainly rice, dry fish, salt and palmyrah. Although Mannar was once famous for such products, the district did not benefit from this because of a lack of product development; branding and packaging; a reluctance to embrace new technology; and low standards in all stages of manufacturing and production. This project has many objectives – to value add to existing Mannar products, develop and promote high quality items for external markets, build the capacity of small and medium enterprises to produce export quality goods and to reduce regional poverty and high levels of unemployment (particularly for vulnerable groups). External funding of this project is essential.

Activities summary from the last visit to Sri Lanka
• Reviewed the extensive “Vision Mannar” proposal and budget completed by Diarne Kreltszheim, Diaspora Lanka volunteer, and Chamber staff in June last year. Also developed a modified and less funds-heavy version.
• Held several meetings with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to seek funds for the “Vision Mannar” proposal.
• Worked closely with Chamber staff to develop new projects and find funding.

Next steps
• Wait for UNDP feedback. The Government and UNDP are currently in negotiations about project and funding guidelines so until the outcomes are known, local resourcing decisions cannot be made.

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Diaspora Lanka Report : 28 September to 31 December 2013 – Part 5

3.3 Computerizing Mannar Villages (CMV)

Selection of students from Pudukuduirippu

Selection of students from Pudukuduirippu

To address the inequities between urban and rural areas within Mannar District and to provide a solid foundation of computer, IT and English ability for young people, two CMV centres have been established in Vidathaltheevu (Catholic) and Pudukudiruppu (Muslim) villages. Computer training and English language classes are being run for children and young people to serve as a basis for a brighter future. The CMV program is a corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative of ITP and is being coordinated by Kamal Raj and Al Hathir.

english class

English class at Vidathaltheevu

Activities summary from the last visit to Sri Lanka
• Volunteers Huyen Lai (Vietnam) and Mirjam Link (Estonia) ran a December vacation program for school-aged children from the two villages, combining English learning and fun activities.
• Children’s Day was celebrated in style at Pudukuduirippu with student presentations of poetry, stories, song and dance.

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Deutsche Welle – Colombo ‘failing to engage’ with Tamil minority

Five years after the end of Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war, there are few signs of a government-led reconciliation, MP Rajiva Wjesinha tells DW, arguing that mistrust and suspicion have only grown stronger.

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Shortly after the Sri Lankan army defeated the separatist “Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam” in May 2009, President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared an end to the country’s bloody civil war which had lasted more than 25 years during that period claimed the lives of at least 100,000 people.

Five years after the end of the separatist conflict, Sri Lanka is still struggling with reconciliation between the majority Sinhala community and the Tamil minority. International human rights organizations hold the army as well as the LTTE-separatists responsible for crimes committed during the civil war. UN High commissioner Navi Pillay has repeatedly criticized the government in Colombo for having failed to establish a “credible national process to address abuses.” As a result the UN Human Rights Council recently decided to launch an independent international investigation of human rights violations during the war.

In a DW interview, Rajiva Wijesinha, a member of the Sri Lankan parliament for the ruling coalition, says the government is not paying enough attention to the needs of people in the former war zones and welcomes advice from countries “which have not been unfairly critical” of the Sri Lankan government’s reconciliation approach. Continue reading

Reconciliation through Poetry

Can poetry reconcile people of different ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds to each other? Can poetry heal the wounds left behind by conflict and wipe away the tears? Can poetry build bridges and bond people together?

Professor K. Satchithanadan of Delhi University, one time secretary of the prestigious Sahitya Academy of India, had no direct answers but made it clear that poetry gave voice to the voiceless, power to challenge injustice and oppression and pricked the conscience of humanity. This message of humanity was conveyed by him and a team of Sri Lankan poets, So Pathmanathan from Jaffna, Ariyawansa Ranaweera from Colombo, and myself from Kandy. Led by him, we visited three higher institutions of learning- namely the University of Peradeniya, the Eastern University and the University of Sabaragamuwa, Belihuloya.

The three poets represented the three languages used in Sri Lanka- Sinhala, Tamil and English. Significantly, they were bilingual and bonded with each other culturally and aesthetically. Above all they shared the enthusiasm to reach out to each other and facilitate others to reach out to them and to each other. The three contexts in which this sensitizing and humanizing activity took place were well selected in terms of background, audience and response. They also formed a cross section of the Sri Lankan population Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim. At the University of Peradeniya something akin to this session had been done by Professor Rajiva Wijesinha when his book ‘Mirrored Images’ was made familiar to the academic community and the alumni there. But this session had vertical proportions in that the participant audience comprised senior academics, academics and students. The audience was participatory and as was to be expected critical. Professor Satchithanandan took them on intellectually as well as poetically. He raised awareness through his very erudite lecture, taking the audience through the ages from Ramayana to Faustus, from Neruda to modern poets who write poetry of violence. He charmed with his recital of his own poetry. He showed without doubt the power of poetry.

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Educating, empowering and involving Youth

untitledText of a presentation at the World Conference on Youth – 8 May 2014

I am grateful to Aide et Action for this opportunity to speak to you, and even more grateful that they have engaged in a process of international consultation to highlight issues crucial for the well-being of youth. The document they have put together provides a clear and concise account of how the areas initially touched upon in the Colombo Declaration can be fleshed out meaningfully.

Underlying the suggestions are a few basic principles that need continuous emphasis. Inclusivity and involvement, information and awareness, empowerment and equal access, all require greater attention from governments.

To achieve this, I think it is necessary to pursue comprehensive reform with regard to mindsets. Reform is of course central to the agenda of Liberalism, which is the creed I uphold, but I think in this context we should also use another word, which has often been twinned with Liberalism.  I refer to the term Radicalism, which means essentially the idea of getting to the core of things and uprooting whatever is not conducive to progress. It is because Liberalism has often been misunderstood, and thought to stand for only free market policies, that in many areas Liberals associate themselves with Radicals, as in an institution of great energy and commitment, the International Federation of Liberal and Radical Youth. This juxtaposition was sometimes necessary to emphasize the Liberal commitment to inclusive progress.

Liberals do indeed believe in free markets, but they also realize, unlike capitalists and conservatives, that markets are not free unless measures are in place to reduce inequalities, to enhance opportunities and to control power, whether it be political, economic, social or physical. The creation of a level playing field may be an impossible dream, but that does not reduce the imperative to pursue this.

This dream, this ideal, lies at the heart of the Colombo declaration, and the additions Aide et Action have suggested on the basis of their consultations in four continents and 16 countries. The details of the consultation make clear how AEA is well qualified to undertake such a task, given the remarkable work it has engaged in all over the world.

I have seen this system of aid in action in just two countries, India and Sri Lanka, but the confidence of their students, and the initiatives they undertake, make it clear that this is an organization that puts its principles into practice. It is for this reason that, over the last couple of years, I have used much of my decentralized budget to set up Vocational Training Centres in the North to be run by Aide et Action. I should add that I was keen that these be set up in schools, to emphasize the link between academic and vocational education, something that the consultations have stressed is necessary. I am happy to say that the initial snooty approach of the Sri Lankan Ministry of Education to Vocational Training is now changing – though not fast enough for my liking – and I received active cooperation from the authorities, both earlier and now, more recently, from the new Provincial administration.

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The need for a national campaign to reduce the size of the Cabinet

Perhaps the most exciting positive political development in the last few months was the Constitutional Amendment proposed by the Hon Vasantha Senanayake MP, to limit the Cabinet to 30 members. This was an important part of the suggestions he made to the Parliamentary Select Committee, after discussion with a group of young people. Given that it is not likely the PSC will come to anything positive soon, he thought he needed to act to promote at least one of the reforms this country so sorely needs.

It is to be hoped that all political interests in the country will rally round this initiative. In the past the minority parties have tended to stick to what they see as their own concerns only. But this neglect of measures that will affect the nation as a whole is counter-productive. In the first place it allows the extremists who will not recognize existing minority concerns to claim that the minorities are not interested in the country as a whole, which means they are still obsessed with the idea of a separate state. This of course is an absurd idea, given how many members of minority groups live in the rest of the country. But sometimes the behavior of in particular the TNA creates the impression that they are simply not interested in reforms that will benefit the country as a whole.

In the case of the Senanayake initiative, they should also realize that a much smaller cabinet would immensely benefit minorities too. As it is, the thinking elements in the Cabinet are dwarfed by those with majoritarian instincts who can shout louder than the rest. But in a Cabinet of at most 30, minorities would constitute at least 20% of the whole. They would also have as colleagues a number of efficient and capable individuals, whereas now Cabinet decisions are made by a massive host, which obviously cannot go into details in discussion.

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Mine Awareness Programme by Army Engineers Continues

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Nearly 250 students and teachers and over 100 adults took part in two mine awareness programmes organized by the 10 Field Sri Lanka Engineers of the Sri Lanka Army early this month. To educate the children and villagers of respective areas and prevention of hazardous incidents occurred due to explosion of mines and UXOs (Unexploded Explosive Ordnance) was the purpose of those programmes.

The first was organized on 04th at Iyakkachchi and the second was at Nagarkovil with assistance of the Halo Trust. Participants were educated to keep the closest security authority informed if one such item was seen without trying to test it.

Army is continuously organizing these programmes in affected areas and getting positive response from the civilians.

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http://www.cimicjaffna.lk/Cimicnews_2014_04_27.php

Diaspora Lanka Report : 28 September to 31 December 2013 – Part 4

3. Business development

IT Platform staff meet Australian planners

Planners get to know the services offered by ITP

3.2 IT Platform (ITP)

Eight young entrepreneurs and five staff in their 20s have commenced a business to provide computer services to underpin development in Mannar District, stalled as a result of 30 years of war. The business outlet offers graphic and web design services, computer repairs and maintenance, printing and photocopying facilities and spare parts sales. Recently ITP has established two outposts under the Computerizing Mannar Villages program. Diaspora Lanka assists with financial support, sourcing business and technical mentors and funding training and professional development.

Activities summary from last visit to Sri Lanka
• ITP continues to improve its profit margins and shoulder an increasing share of the costs.
• Currently Diaspora Lanka’s contribution has decreased to 50% of staff/operational expenses.
• Some staff changes occurred due to other enticing employment and training opportunities.
• To meet a dire need for “motherboard” training, DL provided Rs 60,000 (AU$525) for a five day intensive training course for three ITP entrepreneurs.
• ITP provided back-up IT and printing services to all 15 Australian and international volunteers, supporting them in their town planning, tourism and English language programs.
• During December volunteers from Vietnam and Estonia conducted weekly English language and activity programs for over 60 youngsters, culminating in a showcase event.

Next steps
• Find cost-effective transport solutions to provide services to far-flung areas of the district.
• Raise funds ($500) for motherboard tools to repair failed computer motherboards.
• Review existing contract for financial support and negotiate a new contract in March 2014.

How you can help
• Assist ITP to develop its financial management, reporting capacity and a business plan.
• Contribute towards the AU$800 per month financial contribution to ITP.
• Raise AU$2,000 to purchase motherboard repair tools and a motorbike for distance travel.

The first IT Platform wedding

Intensive motherboard training