Supporting efforts to build unity, peace and mutual understanding among communities

Members of the Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities in Pavatkulam in Vavuniya District

The village of Pavatkulam, in Cheddikkulam, Vavuniya District, consists of Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities. A few years ago, the different communities here hardly met or interacted, bitterly divided over water resources and livelihoods.

H. Gunasena has seen much of the tension that existed between the different communities before 2009, just as soon as they resettled in this village.

Highlights

  • The Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim communities in Pavatkulam hardly met or interacted, bitterly divided over water resources and livelihoods
  • UNDP introduced a number of initiatives that saw the communities come together, including the rehabilitation of an irrigation channel, distribution of fencing material, exposure visits for children and training for members of Community Based Organizations.
  • These initiatives encouraged communities to work together to resolve challenges, thus helping efforts to build trust, peace and mutual understanding among the different communities

“The tension was mainly because of the scarce availability of water from the main channel. When one community started diverting water from the channel towards their paddy fields, the others didn’t have enough. Then, cattle belonging to the Muslim communities encroached our paddy lands and harmed our crops. These were just a few of the challenges the communities faced, that was leading to mistrust and tension between each other.”

In 2010, UNDP, under its Communities for Progress Project, funded by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), introduced a number of initiatives that saw the communities come together. Key among them was the rehabilitation of the irrigation channel which helped reduce the water related issues.

In addition to that, UNDP also helped establish water management committees, bringing together members from the different ethnicities, encouraging them to resolve disputes. Fencing material was also provided for paddy fields in order to address the problem of encroachment of cattle. “Through these, we were able to discuss issues and find solutions ourselves. For example, we managed to distribute water freely and in an equal manner among the three communities. We began to respect one another.” he says

This was not all, says S. M. Majeeth, adding that all three communities also came together for events. One such example was in celebrating the New Year in April, while is mainly celebrated by Sinhalese and Tamil. Yet, the villagers of Pavatkulam held their celebrations at a Muslim schools, while members from all three communities worked together to organize the events.

There was also a strong focus on enhancing the opportunities for interaction among children, and with UNDP’s support the community was able to achieve this. Several exposure visits were conducted for the village through UNDP’s twinning school programme, where students from the village were taken to Jaffna, while students from the Southern Province visited Pavatkulam. “Our children were not able to speak Sinhala, but they managed to communicate with each other. They learnt from each other, they are now thinking differently and have built new friendships. This was also a good starting point to promote peace,” says Majeeth.

Ms. Elena Tischenko, Chief, South and West Asia Division, UNDP Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific in New York, who recently met and held discussions with the community members, described the initiatives as symbolic in efforts to promote social cohesion and integration. “We have seen the results of such collective efforts in this village, not just in terms of infrastructure, but also in the bigger changes these have brought about – unity, peace, mutual understanding and respect,” he said.

C. Rasamelan is confident that they will be able to solve any problems of the future without much difficulties. President of Women’s Rural Development Society, she is quick to explain the progress made by the Community Based Organizations here through the trainings provided, such as in language, book keeping, management and conflict resolution.

“All these made our life much easier. 75% of the problems within the community have been solved, and I hope the rest will be solved soon,” Rasamelan adds, optimistic of what the future holds.

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