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One hundred and sixteen pilgrims from the predominantly Sinhala village of Deegalla, led by a Buddhist priest, visited the island of Nainathivu in April 2016. So what? Is this really something worth singing praises about?!
Yes, because Nainathivu (or Nagadeepa as it is known in Sinhala), is a small island right in the heart of the former rebel-dominated area in northern Sri Lanka. And though, perhaps due to its pre-eminence as one of the very few locations in Sri Lanka visited by the Gautama Buddha, Nainathivu had emerged largely unscratched from the decades-long violent ethnic conflict , and has indeed been visited by thousands of Buddhist pilgrims since the cessation of hostilities, very few have actually stayed overnight in the island itself. For starters, Nainathivu is simply too small and the Buddhist temple there, the historic Nagadeepa Purana Viharaya, does not offer residential facilities. Besides, the islanders themselves prefer not to make commercial gains by tapping on to the flow of visitors. So, when 116 people are accommodated overnight, that was unusual, to say the least. When those 116 happened to be from a Sinhala-village, it becomes stuff of legends, simply because it demonstrates the power of human goodwill in overcoming seemingly impossible odds that prevent true reconciliation between communities divided by decades of bloody conflict.
Entire books have been written about the horrific civil war in Sri Lanka that claimed tens of thousands of lives between 1983 and 2009 and maimed many thousands more. The cessation of that war has not led to an immediate outpouring of affection between the communities ravaged by it. That is only to be expected; wounds do take time to heal. Yet, very few among the global community are aware that on multiple occasions in recent history, Sri Lankans, from all sides of the communal spectrum, had demonstrated commendable courage in electing regimes dedicated to peace and reconciliation.
So the formation of bridges between ethnic Sinhala and Tamil citizens of this beautiful island is happening at a welcome pace. Even in that backdrop, the bonds formed between the residents of Deegalla and Nainathivu, is unique, because they represent two rural communities that would seldom have had reason to interact, if not for a groundbreaking project run by MegaReach. It only happened because one MARDiTRePer, with strong links to Sri Lanka, dared to dream and then bring together a team of amazing volunteers to realise that dream.
Kirushthiga Naguleswaran, or Kirush as she is fondly known, hails from Nainathivu. However, she, along with her family had to flee Sri Lanka due to the communal violence that rocked this beautiful island. Kirush, who commenced medical studies in 2013, could justifiably have borne a grudge against the forces that completely uprooted her family from the land of her birth. She chose to do exactly the opposite instead: she chose to fight for peace. Her plan was astonishing in its simplicity; audacious in its ambition. She wanted to return to the country of birth and live among families of the Sinhala community, the very group that were considered opponents of her own Tamil community. She planned to make friends with Sinhala people who shared her dream of peace, and then get them to meet with like-minded individuals in her own island, Nainathivu. She was convinced, with single-minded determination, that such a meeting would help nurture grass-root contacts between these groups that will grow into unbreakable bonds over the longer-term.
Just the fact that a young person, who had experienced the pain of conflict at such an immediate and personal level, would even think along such lines, is laudable. Kirush went further. Despite meeting resistance from many sources, Kirush persevered, getting together a group of MARDiTRiPers who were willing to make the journey the journey to Sri Lanka with her. Together, they demonstrated superb entrepreneurial skills by adding this massively ambitious project to a trip that was already being planned to undertake a course in Parasitology in Sri Lanka.
The rest is history. Kirush and her colleagues, all hugely motivated individuals who simply refused to give up, managed to realise that dream over a span of nine days in July/August 2015. First, they lived as guests in the homes of villagers of Deegalla, a predominantly Sinhala community in North-Western Sri Lanka. While there, Kirush made an impassioned plea for peace that continues to resonate among the host community to this day. Then she took her whole team of MARDiTRePers to her “home-island” Nainathivu, where she persuaded members of her extended family to share her dream. Then, they organised 25 representatives from each community to travel for a residential programme of reconciliation in the hill capital of Sri Lanka, Kandy.
What was described above, by itself, was a monumental achievement, considering the complex challenges its organisation entailed. Kirush, so ably assisted by her colleagues, fulfilled her dream of scattering seeds of peace, in a field still charred by the fires of ethnic conflict. But, miraculously, the story did not end there. In April 2016, the two communities thus united, working entirely on their own accord, organised the superb follow-up programme whereby 116 residents of Deegalla were hosted in Nainathivu, enabling them to pay homage to the historic Nagadeepa Purana Viharaya. 116 beautiful flowers bloomed from among those scattered seeds. Some more are already on the way: the residents of Nagadeepa are planning a return visit to Deegalla, from where they may pay homage to the historic Munneswaram Kovil, a short distance away.
We at MegaReach remain committed to helping these two inspirational communities strengthen their unique bond, which is fast becoming a beacon of hope for the wider populace of Sri Lanka. We are keen that the ownership of the programme remains with the two communities, opting to chip in only when specifically requested to do so. If you would like to contribute to this ongoing effort in any manner, please do contact us through this website or by writing directly to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please help us nurture this garden of beauty and hope! Let’s please join hands to help many more flowers of peace bloom in Sri Lanka!
The entire programme was made possible due to a substantial fund-raising programme undertaken by the organising team and due to the magnanimity of two well-wishes in Sri Lanka. Dr. Harsha Alles, the Chairman of the Gateway Group sponsored the transport arrangements and the venue for the programme in Kandy, while Mr. Tikiri Ellepola, the Chief Operating Officer / Vice President of Aitken Spence (https://www.linkedin.com/in/tikiri-ellepola-81045714) sponsored the hosting arrangements for the overnight programme. MegaReach is further indebted to the Principal (Mr. Colin Ratnayake), staff and students of Trinity College Kandy for the superb performance of their international award-winning Kandyan Dance Troupe. All participants, numbering over one hundred representatives of Deegalla, Kandy and Nainathivu, were uniformly appreciative of the programme and its contribution towards the wider reconciliation effort.