Recently myself and another Gecko member, Nilmini were selected to participate in a trip to Sri Lanka organized by the Royal Commonwealth Society and facilitated by the NGO, International Alert. In addition to being all-expenses-paid, the main attraction to this trip was its novel approach. Called Diaspora Dialogues, this visit brought together 7 second-generation Sri Lankans, aged between 21 and 28, from different ethnic backgrounds with the dual aim of fostering greater communication between the disparate Diaspora groups in the UK, as well as reconnecting them with the situation in Sri Lanka. The Youth Delegation was also joined by two British MPs; one Conservative and one Labour.
The best word to describe the trip: intense. Though we were only there for a week it felt like so much longer. It was physically, mentally and emotionally draining, one of the most exhausting weeks of our lives. But it was such a valuable experience, life-changing even, in ways we didn’t expect or anticipate. From meetings with leading parliamentarians (both Government officials and opposition spokesmen), to field visits out of the capital, to more rural and remote areas (meeting with people from the villages surrounding Kottagala, Anuradhapura and Vavuniya), it was a truly eye-opening trip. Even though we’re all familiar with Sri Lanka, and have maintained a strong commitment to the country (especially through our work with Gecko), this trip stripped us of some of our deeply, though perhaps unconsciously held pre-conceptions and revealed the complexity of the situation in which the state finds itself and our own short-sightedness or unintentional prejudices on certain matters.
On a practical note, Nilmini and I were given a great opportunity to network on behalf of Gecko, and our meetings resulted in a whole host of new contacts who could be really useful for our future projects. We were given a first-hand insight into the lives of some under-privileged communities in Sri Lanka, and were shown the often-overlooked causes of their social disadvantage. But there is potential there too. And we identified many possible ways in which Gecko can do its bit to help improve their lives. We look forward to pursuing some of these connections in the future and contributing meaningfully to the betterment of the situation in Sri Lanka, with your help.
But for me the most important message of the trip was that of the need for openness and inclusivity. The fact that our group consisted of mixed ethnicities was a real strength and it was refreshing and enlightening to be given the opportunity and encouragement to engage in frank discussions about potentially divisive and polarizing issues. It became quickly apparent that the end of the war in Sri Lanka does not mean the end of the conflict, for the under-lying issues of ethnic and social division remain prevalent. On our return from Sri Lanka, I think Nilmini and I both went through (and are still going through) a period of intense soul-searching, and a re-assessment of our own opinions and how they affect our impression of identity. Everything we’d seen and heard on this trip to Sri Lanka allowed us to start viewing the situation through a different lens, by putting ourselves in the position of another and seeing it from their perspective. For long-term peace to be a realizable objective, reconciliation needs to start with this very smallest of steps. In this way, Gecko can form a useful forum for bringing people together for discussion. Our social events have been enormously enjoyable, and have made an important charitable contribution to Sri Lanka, but we are thinking of expanding our horizons slightly, to include more political (though not politicized) discussion events, that will hopefully promote greater cross-ethnic, pluralistic understanding and co-operation.
We hope you will support us in this step, and join us at our future events!