A different approach for a better society

Published: 30 August 2012 11:12 CET

By Mahieash Johnney in Sri Lanka

In the hilly terrain of central Sri Lanka lies the small village of Tholangamuwa. Recently these green hills and rolling meadows played host to a group of young people who used the calm surroundings to engage in a week-long training comprised of workshops, discussions and debates as well as a range of more unconventional activities such as yoga, drama and dance. 

The training was part of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society’s flagship ‘Youth as Agents of Behavioral Change’ programme, a global initiative launched by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), which works to encourage young people to play a greater leadership role in society by inspiring a positive transformation of mindsets, attitudes and behaviors within themselves and their local community.

The focus is on providing young people with non-formal values- and skills-based education. Participants were trained to promote social cohesion and emotional well-being through a ‘heart to mind approach’. In the context of Sri Lanka which has recently emerged from a bitter 26 year war, the programme provides an opportunity to create a platform for inter-cultural dialog, a vital step in the reconciliation process between divided communities.  

Akshy Athukorale, from the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society, was one of the participants of the workshop. “I think I learned how we can be a source of leadership in our own communities in order to change the old ways of thinking, which will lead to a more harmonized community.”

The programme emphasizes the training of peer educators - celebrating the idealism, enthusiasm and creativity of youth, and encouraging people to lead by example and make an active contribution to the development of their communities.

Bob McKerrow, the IFRC’s head of delegation in Sri Lanka, said it was tremendous to see participants putting on dramas, dance, music and movies on themes ranging from anti-discrimination, peace-building and social inclusion. “We had trainers and participants from Lebanon, Philippines, Afghanistan, and Malaysia,” he said. “This helped the 25 participants from Sri Lanka to not only look at their local context but to go beyond and learn from the experience of other people from various parts of the world.”

One of the major outcomes of the workshop was that participants developed a clear action plan on how they can roll out what they learnt at the workshop in their respective branches and communities.

T. Ariyaratne - Sri Lanka Red Cross Society OD Specialist: “The action plans that were developed will be shared with the national headquarters and the management of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society, and will also become part of the programme process of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement.”