USAID empowers preschool teachers to promote reconciliation in classrooms | Sunday Observer

USAID empowers preschool teachers to promote reconciliation in classrooms

It was three days of mingling, learning,reflection, and fun for nearly 100 female preschool teachers who arrived in Jaffna, from across the country seeking a different approach to promote peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

The ‘Peace and Reconciliation Camp’ in Jaffna for preschool teachers,conducted jointly by USAID Social Cohesion and Reconciliation activity (SCORE) and the Rotary Club from September 13-15,was a true display of strength in diversity, when preschool teachers belonging to Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim ethnicities from six war-affected and/or underdeveloped provinces came together for one cause: a change in the future trajectory of Sri Lanka through instilling thoughts of peace in young minds. It was also an opportunity for these women to exercise leadership to promote responsible citizenship and reconciliation.

The camp in Jaffna was the first of a series of activities jointly implemented by USAID SCORE and the Rotary Club in cooperation with provincial education authorities, to empower 500 preschool teachers across rural Sri Lanka to impart values of social cohesion and coexistence among nearly 20,000 preschoolers under their wing.Out of the total of 98 female teachers who attended, 53 were Sinhalese, 28 were Tamil and 17 were Muslim from underprivileged areas in the Northern, Eastern, Southern, Uva, Central and North Central Provinces. They gathered at the historic Jaffna Public Library to learn new ways of incorporating peace education in early childhood learning, through workshops conducted in Sinhala and Tamil, and outdoor events such as trust building activities, song and drama, facilitated by expert resource persons.

“I have over 30 children in my class who are from different cultural backgrounds. Sometimes, language is a barrier as mother tongues are different. This camp helped me understand that we need to make an effort to learn each others’ languages on a daily basis, so that specific language learning teachers would not be necessary,” said a Sinhala preschool teacher from Monaragala.

Needless to say, apart from this being a huge learning curve for the participating preschool teachers, it was also an opportunity for them to get to know each other and build alliances, albeit the geographic and cultural distance. New friendships were built among peers from different ethnicities and they departed after promising to keep in touch once they return home. The activity is a success story for USAID SCORE in promoting a cohesive Sri Lankan identitywhereby preschool teachers of different ethnicities become change agents and engage constructively in the reconciliation process.