Growing up in a Tamil-majority area, 18-year-old Chinthana had few chances to interact with individuals from other communities. Her encounter with women from Moneragala was also the first time she met a group of Sinhalese individuals. It radically changed her perceptions and attitudes.
Over a period of seven months, we implemented a carefully designed training program called “Empowering Women Leaders for Social Integration”, on behalf of the Ministry of National Languages and Social Integration and with funding support from UNDP. It focused on building leadership skills and mutual understanding in 30 women from Kilinochchi, a Tamil area, and Moneragala, where the majority are Sinhalese.
The project inspired participants to engage in social integration and community service delivery at the individual and collective level. Members of these isolated groups were able to establish positive relationships. ‘I had a wrong idea about Sinhalese people’, said Chinthana. ‘After getting to know them through the EWLSI project, my opinion changed. They are very kind and friendly. During the language camp workshops, we learned a few Sinhala words. The group from Moneragala visited us in Kilinochchi, and we talked about our cultural practices and customs. I understand them much better now’.
52-year-old Kusumawathi from Monaeragala said, ‘The LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a secessionist organization that fought against the Sri Lankan Military during the Civil War) once killed people in my area, and one of my family members was among the victims. I couldn’t distinguish between the LTTE and the Tamil community. I was full of hatred. I knew all groups should enjoy equal rights and freedoms, but I didn’t do anything to help Tamils win their rights because of the anger I harbored. Ater working with Hinduja, a Tamil participant in our group, and becoming friends with the women from Kilinochchi, my attitude is completely different’.
The program was a great success. Apart from the ties of friendship and goodwill established between members of the two groups, each team has proactively sought to promote better understanding, interethnic integration, and reconciliation within their district.