Making friends for life through UNDP’s Communities for Peace project
Thirteen year old Ravindu Dilshan Edirisinghe is a student of the Janakapura Maha Vidyalaya in Weli Oya, in the North- East of Sri Lanka. Ravindu and his 6 year old sister Tharushi have been living with their parents in the Weli Oya area, throughout the civil war that raged in the North and East.
Having lived his whole life in Weli Oya, Ravindu, who has not ventured far from his village, knows little about the rest of the island. When he was selected as a participant of the UNDP Twinning Schools Programme, Ravindu was delighted at the prospect of meeting new people and broadening his horizons.
The Twinning Schools Programme which is a component of the UNDP Communities for Peace Programme, strives to create lasting relationships between Sinhala and Tamil children from different parts of the country. For children like Ravindu who have never had an opportunity to associate with Tamil children, this was a truly life changing experience. Two schools from the Weli Oya area; the Janakapura Vidyalaya and the Sampathnuwara Maha Vidyalaya were twinned with two schools from the Mannar district; the Murunkan Maha Vidyalam and the Pariharikandal GTM. A group of 20 students from each school were taken to visit each of the others schools. The Weli Oya students visited the Mannar schools from the13th to the 17th of January and the Mannar students returned the visit from the 24th to the 28th of February 2010.
During these 5 days the children were given ample opportunity to get to know each other through various activities ranging from meditation to acting, dancing and singing. “I liked the drama part the best,” says Ravindu, adding that he does not get much opportunity to display his acting skills in school. Ravindu also had a suggestion for how to improve the programme. “We should have more sports, like Elle, Cricket and Volleyball,” said this keen sportsman whose aim is to become a national cricket player like his hero Mahela Jayawardene.
Ravindu, like many of the other Weli Oya children embraced the opportunity to meet new friends. “I made friends with a lot of new boys,” says Ravindu. The friend he is most proud of is “Joshuva Aiya (brother),” a fifteen year old student from the Pariharikandal GTM in Mannar. “My friend Rohan went to Mannar with the other children last time and when he came back he told me all about Joshua aiya. After all I had heard, I was very exited about meeting him,” says Ravindu. Despite language difficulties, Ravindu says he was able to communicate with his Tamil friends. “They understand a little Sinhala and I understand a little Tamil now,” he says adding that he would like to learn more Tamil. Ravindu plans on “talking to his new friends on the phone” whenever possible.
Ravindu says he learnt many new things from his friends. “I learnt to stay up at night!” he says explaining that the Weli Oya folk usually go to sleep around 7.00 p.m. “But here, with all the other children, we stay up till late and sing songs and play games,” he says, grinning from ear to ear. In addition to staying up at night, Ravindu says that he also learnt to have fun and work together with other children. For children like Ravindu, a five day sleep over with 80 new friends was an experience that will not be easily forgotten!