Peace Direct in Sri Lanka

Source : Peace Direct

We profile Peace Direct’s new project in eastern Sri Lanka aimed at forging new bonds between Tamil and Muslim women.

Francesca’s Report

I have just returned from Sri Lanka where I volunteered for the Centre for Peacebuilding and Reconciliation (CPBR) in Colombo. During my stay the conflict situation worsened visibly. There was the attack by the LTTE on Galle. Peace talks came…. and failed. By the time I left, skirmishes between government forces and the LTTE had become almost daily affairs. There had been sea battles and the shelling of an IDP camp with civilian casualties in the East, a Tamil MP had been killed in Colombo and these were just the attacks we heard about…. I was not able to travel to visit the villages where CPBR has its projects, however they came to me. 14 CPBR people from 2 villages in the East came to Colombo for three days of training. While hearing them describe their projects, I realised the importance of the approach used: there is no development without peace, and mostly no peace without development. Mahesh and Sudesh, the coordinators, interweave livelihood projects with peacebuilding activities in a way that is fully integrated: and success is virtually guaranteed. A woman involved in a mixed community flour grinding project said to them; “thank you – I have been able to acquire peace of mind [from gaining a way of feeding her family] and now I can think about the others in the community”.

The Project

You’ll find it alongside one of the numerous army checkpoints, midway down the bustling main road in the village of Periyanilavenai on the east coast of the island. It’s a small, freshly painted three-roomed building. Go inside to shelter from the burning sunshine and swirling dust clouds and you’ll see a clean, concrete floor, bare walls, and ten Singer sewing machines on desks around the room. Above the entrance is a sign; “Peace for Brave”, which doesn’t make much sense grammatically, but makes perfect sense when you see what it does, and the context it does it in.

The idea is pretty simple. Local women and girls from tsunami-affected families are chosen. Half are Tamil and half are Muslim, two groups losing more and more common ground as each day passes in this part of the island. Some can sew, others have never picked up a needle and thread in their life. Gradually, they begin to manufacture clothing – learning from each other and working as a team, selling traditional dresses in glorious colours to the local markets.

It’s a project set up by the CPBR and funded by Peace Direct. The money you donated isn’t a handout, it’s a start-up loan. This is a business with a clear marketing strategy which is expected to pay its own way. However what makes it unique, fabulous and vital, is the added component of conflict resolution training. Facilitators from the CPBR will regularly work with the women, introducing concepts and tools which they can take back to their homes and villages.

It is training that is badly needed in this part of Sri Lanka. The violence is becoming increasingly entrenched and every day come reports seeming to confirm the descent back towards civil war. This new centre won’t stop that descent on its own, but in its own small way will make a big difference in Periyanilavenai. It has changed the lives of the women who have been chosen to work there. Now their job is to spread the skills of conflict resolution they learn into every corner of their community.

Peace Direct in Sri Lanka
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