SRI LANKA Sinhalese and Tamil youths clean hospital together

March 6, 2009

KANDY, Sri Lanka (UCAN) — While the Sinhalese government battles Tamil rebels in the country, Catholic youths from the two communities recently came together to clean up a village hospital in central Sri Lanka.

“This is my first time working with Sinhalese,” said Sagaya Mary, from the minority ethnic Tamil community as she scrubbed the floors and cleaned the beds in the wards of the Bogawanthalawa government hospital on March 1.

Tamil workers were brought to the country from neighboring India during the British colonial period to work on tea, rubber and cocoa estates. Many of the workers today remain illiterate and socially marginalized, even though they were born in Sri Lanka.

Kandy diocese itself is surrounded by tea estates and most of its plantation workers are descendants of these Tamil workers.

Sinhalese form more than 70 percent of the country’s population of about 20 million, and Tamils less than 20 percent.

The Catholic youth federation of Kandy diocese brought together about 200 youths from these communities in various parishes to help them understand each other better.

Father Desmond Perera, Diocesan Youth Apostolate Coordinator, told the young people before they started their work, “This is a wonderful opportunity for youths from different corners of the diocese to meet each other, make new friends and get to know each other’s lives because understanding is very important.”

Tension between the two ethnic groups was far from the minds of the youths as they cleaned the hospital together on March 1.

Joy Christopher, a Sinhalese youth who worked alongside Mary, described the experience as “something new, an awesome experience, because hospitals are places where we were born, so it is like showing our gratitude.”

Quipped Mary, “If the floor looks dirty, then people will assume the entire facility is dirty, and they’ll probably think that it’s not a place that gives adequate care.”

Father Perera said the joint voluntary work aims to help the youths from both communities create “a non-violent and better tomorrow.”

This local joint effort comes at a time when Sri Lankan security forces say they are within weeks of defeating the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The group, which wants to establish a Tamil state in northern and eastern Sri Lanka, launched an independence struggle against the Sinhalese-led government in 1983. The conflict has claimed about 80,000 lives and displaced more than a million people.

Source : UCAN

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