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South Asia Peace Initiative

Building Peace in Sri Lanka through Sports and Service

Basketball clinics and peace lectures drawing on texts held sacred in Sri Lanka's multi-religious society were highlights of a recent Youth Leadership Development program in Sri Lanka.

About 60 Sri Lankan youth attended the March 28-30, 2008, seminar at the Subodhi Center for Integral Studies in Moratuwa, Colombo. It was organized by the Universal Peace Federation and sports educators in collaboration with Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Sports and its Department of Education in the Western Province.

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Dr. Robert Kittel, director of peace education for UPF-Asia, presented UPF’s Principles of Peace using many references from the Dhammapada, the essence of the Buddha’s teaching. About 70 percent of Sri Lankans are Buddhists, and half of the seminar participants came from a Buddhist background. The Buddha’s teaching correlates with the Principles of Peace in two fundamental areas: mind-body alignment and the purity of relationships between men and women. The references from the Dhammapada deeply touched the hearts of the Buddhists in the audience. Dr. Kittel also gave presentations on the Root Cause of Our Human Dilemma and the Principle of Human Responsibility. He illustrated the concepts with examples from many religious traditions, connecting with the members of the audience which was a microcosm of the diverse communities in Sri Lanka.

For the past fifteen years, there has been a religious/ethnic civil war in Sri Lanka in which over 65,000 people have been killed. Minority communities of Hindus, Christians, and Muslims live in various parts of the island. About 25 young people from the conflict areas in the northeast had been expected to participate, but they could not make it due to certain last-minute tense situations in that region.

While most of the participants were under 25 years of age, some parents attended. One parent (a Buddhist) who had two daughters attending the workshop commented about the presentations: “These lecturers were very good; they taught us how to get peace and how to create true love. I very happy my children could attend.” Another participant commented: “I gained good knowledge from this seminar. It gave me good ideas to be a good Buddhist.”

Participants found the presentations about UPF’s Principles of Peace relevant to current events in Sri Lanka. “We can bring religious people together,” one person commented afterwards. Other reactions included: “We should expand this program throughout Sri Lanka,” and “Through this we can bring peace to Sri Lanka.”

The young people had all had previously participated in Religious Youth Service projects and/or Interreligious Peace Sports Festivals. “UPF Principles of Peace made the seminar more powerful,” commented one youth. “This program was a turning point in my life,” reported another.

Rev. John Gehring, Chairman of the Interreligious Peace Sports Festival, conducted an educational component of the seminar. He and Ms. Diesa Seidel, a basketball coach from the USA, added an athletic flavor to the program.

Before the workshop, Ms. Seidel held a two-day basketball coaching clinic for the Sri Lanka National Women’s Junior and Senior Teams and a one-day clinic with boys and girls under age 15 with the Department of Education for the Western Province. This was organized through the Basketball Federation of Sri Lanka.

Ms. Seidel had played professional basketball in Europe for Tarbes in the National Pro A Euroleague and Viterbo in the Italian League. A physical education teacher in New Jersey, USA, she participated in Religious Youth Service projects in Trinidad and Tobago in 2003 and in Guyana in 2004.

The programs were covered on national television prime time news in all three national languages and were reported in national newspapers.

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Mr. Rajiva Wijesinha, General Secretary of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process, expressed a keen interest in the concept of integrating sports and character development. One of their projects is an annual football (soccer) tournament between the Tamil youth in the northeast and Sri Lanka peacekeeping forces. Mr. Wijesinha had attended UPF’s Conference on Good Governance in the Parliament of Sri Lanka in August 2007.

Mr. Kaluratna, director of the Department of Sports for the Ministry of Education, was involved in the youth leadership program, as well as Maj. General Palitha Fernando, President of the Athletic Association of Sri Lanka, and Mr. B.L.H. Perera, Director of the National Institute of Sports Science. Other key supporters included Mr. Ajeth Kuruppu, President of FIBA (Federation International Basketball Association)-Asia, and Mr. Ignatius. T. Canagaratnam, former president of the Sri Lankan Basketball Federation and currently a central committee member of FIBA-Asia.

In considering the above, we feel that it was a very successful program, and much potential was generated to hold long-term programs of this nature in Sri Lanka.

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