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Peace Education

Sri Lanka Ambassador Hosts Peace Forum in Washington, DC

Washington DC, United States - A special gathering of peacemakers explored the theme, “A New Vision for Peace in the 21st Century,” held at the residence of the Ambassador of Sri Lanka on July 30, 2009 in Washington DC. The Sri Lankan Embassy, partnering with Universal Peace Federation (UPF) International and UPF-USA, presented the core principles and practices that can facilitate movement toward a world in which people of every race, culture, and religion can live together in peace.

At long last, the three decades of military conflict in Sri Lanka have ended, and the government is looking to establish a sustainable peace for its people. For this reason, Thursday’s program was particularly timely and poignant.

An overflow crowd of diplomats, Ambassadors for Peace, and new guests enjoyed the exotic South Asian atmosphere of the Ambassador’s residence and were welcomed by Ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya himself, along with his gracious staff. A delicious array of Sri Lankan foods and famous Ceylon tea was served for the reception, while valuable connections and new friends were made.

Mistress of Ceremonies, Tomiko Duggan, Director of the UPF Office of Embassy Relations, Washington DC, welcomed the audience and introduced the gracious host for the evening, H.E. Jaliya Wickramasuriya, Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the USA. After showing a beautiful film of Sri Lanka, the Ambassador shared sincerely about his country as it savors a hard won peace and at the same time faces post conflict challenges.

Ambassador Wickramasuriya greeted us in the traditional way, “Ayubowan,” which means, “May you live long”. Sri Lanka is an island nation off the southern coast of India about the size of West Virginia, with a population of some 20 million people. In his welcoming remarks, he explained that Sri Lanka is the largest exporter of tea to the world.

Sri Lanka has a 2,500-year-old written history, is the oldest democracy in Asia, and is rich in culture. However, nearly three decades of civil war which ended in May this year displaced a large number of families who now live in government-run centers. Now that peace has returned, the government has launched an ambitious plan to rebuild 80,000 new homes for those displaced persons, who “have a right to voluntary return, in safety and dignity, to their original places of residence.” They have also just completed a mission to remove 1,000 land mines near the northern city of Jaffna. In conclusion, the Ambassador stated that now is the time to heal old wounds. He invited everyone to visit Sri Lanka, calling it a happy place, full of a new freedom and excitement for a future of peace, happiness, and prosperity.

Mr. John Dickson, a Committee Chairman with the World Trade Centers Association, Inc., shared his thoughts on the topic, “Peace and Stability through Economic Growth and Development.” He praised Sri Lanka for appointing an ambassador from the private sector, noting the practical and effective nature of the Ambassador’s presentation. And he went on to explain the relationship between business, peace, and stability. “Business people are underappreciated peacemakers.” Mr. Dickson said, “The relationships they build transcend barriers and create stability.” He referred to the example of the nuclear standoff between India and Pakistan in 2002; no UN peacekeeping delegation could broker a resolution. But it was the business community in each country that pressured their governments to stand down. They understood that even if one side won, both would lose in terms of their economic foundation. This successful negotiation, however, was unheralded by the media. Mr. Dickson concluded by expressing the expectation and support for building economic stability now in Sri Lanka.

After an inspirational musical presentation and an introductory video to UPF, Mr. Jim Flynn, Secretary General of UPF-USA, delivered a comprehensive synopsis of the principles of peace-building and reconciliation which are the central pillars of UPF’s efforts to establish peace throughout the world. First, he presented five basic principles which identify the common ground of the world’s religions and cultures.

Analyzing the cause of conflict, Mr. Flynn asked the questions, “What defines our common humanity? What is our most essential identity? If our sense of identity is rooted in our race and religion this can lead to intractable conflict. Yet if our identity is perceived as one family coming from one Creator who loves us all, this breaks down the walls of 'us and them.' These concepts can appear simple, yet they are very profound and powerful.”

Mr. Flynn went on to explore the area of conflict resolution asking the question, “Does fighting fully resolve a conflict? Fighting can be necessary for self-defense, and to defend the weak, yet defeating an enemy does not address his grievances or end his hatred. The defeated are often tempted to seek revenge." Mr. Flynn cited the historic example of how the harsh treatment of defeated Germany at the end of World War I planted the seeds for the rise of Hitler and eventually to World War II. He contrasted that to the situation after World War II, where the Marshall Plan was used to rebuild Germany and turn a bitter former enemy into friends and allies today. When one is able to give unconditionally, even to those who have done him harm, this action has the potential to convert the enemy into a friend and can reverse ancient patterns of abuse and revenge.

Mr. Flynn highlighted this idea with the powerful words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you.... Beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.”

Similar sentiment has been expressed by UPF’s founder, Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon:

“Only the power of love could begin the new history and new age. When a person has the power to love even his enemies, he is truly a giant and there is nothing he cannot deal with or embrace.”

After Mr. Flynn spoke, Ms. Dottie Bass, the Assistant Director for Outreach and Programming at the Office of Multi-ethnic Student Education at the University of Maryland, and an active Ambassador for Peace with UPF, gave remarks. With a Native American talking stick in hand, she gave a deep perspective on peacebuilding from her background.

At the close of the program, new Ambassadors for Peace were appointed and welcomed to UPF’s global network of peacemakers by the Washington area Secretary General, Ms. Gail Paine. First to be appointed was the gracious host, Ambassador Wickramasuriya.

Among the other distinguished leaders in the DC Metropolitan Area who were appointed was Mr. Rick Sieller, the Founder and President of the International Women and Children’s Burn Foundation. The mission of this foundation is to help underserved communities heal their severely burned women and children by providing rehabilitation and education. Burn centers have been established in Guatemala and Nicaragua. This year Mr. Siellar is planning to establish a new international rehabilitation clinic based in Sri Lanka.

As the program adjourned, photos were taken of the new Ambassadors for Peace with their certificates, and the audience came forward to congratulate their new compatriots. After the event officially closed people lingered for networking, talking, discussing and enjoying each other’s company.

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