The beautiful island of Sri Lanka, lying just off the coast of southern India, has endured one of the more brutal wars of the last century, lasting 27 years and claiming 80-100,000 lives. Over the course of the war, ceasefires between the Tamil Tiger insurgents and the Sinhalese-dominated government were negotiated and broken, and after a Norwegian-led peace process collapsed in 2008, the Sri Lankan government sought a military victory. Their success in May 2009 brought an end to the violence, but left many challenges in its wake, as reports of civilian deaths and human rights abuses abound and the grievances of Tamil and Muslim minorities remain unmet. The challenges of reconstruction and reconciliation in this long-divided country will remain for many years.
Karuna Center began leading seminars in Sri Lanka in 1994, working throughout the country with a variety of civil society organizations to teach the skills and practices of conflict resolution, increase mutual understanding between identity groups, foster social responsibility, and encourage communal harmony. We have remained engaged until this day.
We are currently supporting inter-faith reconciliation projects at the community level on an ongoing basis, which are conducted by the inter-faith councils we helped to establish in the two year-program described below; see our blog for updates on our Sri Lanka work.
Inter-religious Cooperation for Community Development and Social Empowerment
To help address deep inter-ethnic tensions forged by 26 years of civil war, Karuna Center launched this program in September 2011 in the districts of Trincomalee and Batticaloa and the division of Padaviya. In close collaboration with our Sri Lankan partner Sarvodaya, and with support from Tetra-Tech ARD, this USAID-funded program brought together 80 Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian religious leaders in Sri Lanka's Eastern province to develop empathy and mutual understanding, build trust and discover common ground as peace builders, and develop facilitation skills for running inter-faith dialogues in their respective communities. For many, this was the first time they had spoken openly with members of other religious and ethnic groups.
Following the dialogues, workshops, and trainings, the leaders worked closely with Sarvodaya in interfaith teams to implement 53 community-based projects designed to promote inter-ethnic reconciliation. These projects ranged from Tamil and Sinhala language classes and youth work camps to women’s livelihood projects. Over 5,000 community members participated in these projects and related events, well above program targets. We also collected and published “rescue stories,” stories of various Sri Lankans that protected members of a different faith/ethnic group during the years of conflict, often at risk to their own safety. An additional 80 young religious committee members also received peacebuilding training from our Sri Lankan partners, and the most enterprising joined their elders to form district interfaith councils that continue to work on conflict prevention and inter-communal reconciliation.
The project culminated in March 2013 with a national conference on inter-religious tolerance with 700 attendees, where religious leaders from around the country joined our group from the eastern region to discuss strategies for mitigating religious and ethnic conflict. Our final report (PDF) and final evaluation of this program detail the scope, activities, and results of this program.
Team 1325 and Women in Sri Lanka: Building a Common Platform for Peace
In 2008, Karuna Center in partnership with AWAW, Association of War Affected Women and with gender expert, Sanam Anderlini, led a seminar for women that focused on Sri Lankan applications of UN Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security along with women’s coalition building across differences of ethnicity and geographical region. Workshop participants developed an action plan for continued work together. We also held a UN Resolution 1325 conference in Colombo to encourage women’s participation in future peace negotiations.
Preparing for Peace: Leadership Training for Dialogue and Reconciliation
From 2003-05, Karuna Center led a two-year training-of-trainers program for 25 participants who were mentored in leading their own reconciliation projects for all sectors of society, supported by a grant from the United States Institute of Peace. Seminars sequentially covered a comprehensive curriculum in conflict analysis, conflict interventions, and the facilitation of programs in inter-ethnic dialogue and reconciliation. To broaden the group’s collective understanding of Sri Lanka’s many regional challenges and differences, each seminar included exposure to the particular problems of a particular region and to local development and peacebuilding efforts. Participants, who represented all ethnic groups and regions of Sri Lanka, were also mentored in designing and facilitating peacebuilding workshops for area residents. During the course of the program, participants created projects that they led in multi-ethnic teams. These included:
Participants also worked with Karuna Center staff to develop a peacebuilding training manual that won a USIP best practices award and has been translated into Tamil and Sinhalese and widely distributed. Fifteen of the 25 original participants attended a follow-up event three years later. All had maintained their commitment to peacebuilding activities in Sri Lanka, working through a variety of organizations for an end to violent conflict and a just peace.
ARTICLES AND RESOURCES
Preparing for Peace: Interethnic Dialogue and Communal Healing in Sri Lanka - by Olivia Stokes Dreier and Paula Green (2003)
A Trainer's Guide to Interfaith Peacebuilding in Sri Lanka (2013)
Dishani Jayaweera is a Director of Programs for the Centre for Peacebuilding and Reconciliation: Home for Diversity, an NGO in Sri Lanka she co-founded after participating in Karuna Center programs.
"My work with Karuna Center gave me the confidence that I could do more than manage logistics for development projects and inspired me to start my own organization in 2003. Karuna Center was the first organization to work with us as a partner. Today we provide facilitation, program development, and consultation for grassroots groups as well as international organizations."