Over 300 students from across the country pledged to work towards reconciliation at the Student Leadership Conference for National Unity organised by the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) at the BMICH recently.
The closing ceremony was attended by President Maithripala Sirisena on the invitation of former President and Chairperson of ONUR, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga who was also in attendance.
The conference was held to coincide with the National Integration and Reconciliation Week declared by the Government and under the Education for Reconciliation program of ONUR. Development of leadership and conflict transformation skills and to forming youth reconciliation ambassadors were some of the objectives of the conference.
President Maithripala Sirisena said, it was sad that while children understand the importance of reconciliation adults are blind to it due to jealousy, anger and hatred. He also added that this program was a great way for children to understand the true meaning of reconciliation and implored them to go to their homes and spread the message to others.
Throughout the day the students, through facilitated sessions, learned about each other’s cultures, practices and tools which they could use to take the message of reconciliation forward in their own communities, including how to use social media to promote reconciliation, how to transform themselves to promote national unity and practical activities they can carry out at a school level. ONUR expects to continue this initiative as a long term program across the country.
The conference was held parallel to ONUR’s Sahodara Pasal – Sahodara Padasalai initiative launched in 2016, where students from the provinces are paired and taken through a 5-day residential student camp on conflict transformation, sports and arts for reconciliation with the objective of instilling the values of living together with mutual understanding and respect in a diverse society.
Selected officials from provincial education departments, teachers and other dignitaries including Governor Southern Province Hemakumara Nanayakkara, State Minister of National Integration and Reconciliation A. H. M. Fowzie, Secretary of the Ministry of National Integration V. Sivagansoothy, Minister of State Mohamed Zuhair, DG ONUR M. S. Jayasinghe, the ONUR Board of Governors, Members of the Diplomatic Corps and Provincial Directors of Departments of Education were also present at the closing ceremony.