A total of 550 student leaders aged 17-20 from schools across Sri Lanka gathered at Mirissa Maha Vidyalaya in the beautiful coastal town from 9 to 12 October to attend Unity Camp 7 hosted by Ekamuthu Oray Makal Unity Mission Trust.
The Unity Mission Trust has been in existence since May 2009 and is a non-profit Trust that is dedicated to fostering unity, integration, healing and reconciliation between the teenagers and young adults in the Wanni area and their peers from all over Sri Lanka. This was the 18th consecutive Unity through Leadership program carried out by the Trust; that as of now links up nearly 6,000 student leaders from across Sri Lanka.
The program began on the afternoon of 9 October, with an opening ceremony graced by the First Lady of Sri Lanka Shiranthi Wickramasinghe Rajapaksa as Chief Guest, who gave out the Group Leaders badges to the 40 Group Leaders selected from across Sri Lanka.
The opening program included two beautiful cultural dances from North and South, from schools renowned for their talents, namely, Vembadi Girls School from Jaffna and Sri Sumangala MV from Weligama. It was possibly a unique occasion where a Northern school performed on a stage in a school in the south in front of a very distinguished and large audience!
The opening ceremony was also graced by Chandima Rasaputra, Education Minster of the South, Aruna Guneratne, Provincial Member, Daya Gallage, Co-ordinating Secretary to the President, as well as Chairman of Trust, Major General (Rtd) Lohan Goonewardena, and Trustees Sanath Weeratunga, Reyaz Mihular and the Founder and Co-Founder Trustees Bertal and Shyamala Pinto-Jayawardena.
‘Powering Confidence: Building Leaders’
As at other camps, Unity Camp 7 ran under a theme – in this case ‘Powering Confidence: Building Leaders’ and had three major objectives:
1) Foster new and long term friendships amongst Student Leaders of the North and the South
2) Understand and accept their status as equal sons and daughters of a beautiful Mother Lanka 3) Provide leadership and personal capacity building to enable these youth to strengthen Sri Lanka through their unity.
To achieve these goals the students were grouped into 20 groups and 40 selected male and female Group Leaders. They were taken through a carefully-structured program for four days where the groups competed with each other in sports activities, oratory, drama, singing and dancing. Furthermore they were involved in art and craft workshop, led by Shyamala Pinto-Jayawardena; here they had the opportunity to witness some traditional mask-carving, a much-celebrated art form from the south of Sri Lanka.
The students also had the remarkable opportunity to listen to powerful motivational sessions and presentations from some highly-celebrated Sri Lankans. They included – Nirmali Wickramasinghe – former Principal of Ladies College and celebrated educationist; Mahela Jayawardena – former Captain of the Sri Lankan National Team and international renowned cricketer; Kushil Gunasekara – Founder of the Foundation of Goodness; Dian Gomes – Trustee of Unity Mission Trust and Managing Director of MAS Sri Lanka as well as by Bertal and Shyamala Pinto-Jayawardena. The entire program is carefully structured to give the youth the opportunity to interact and build new bridges of friendships – sowing seeds that will bear fruit in a few years down the road!
The campers who reflected outstanding leadership and other skills were recognised at a prize-giving, which included the awarding of the anuual Lakmali Nanayakkara Memorial Challenge Trophies to the most Outstanding Female and Male Camper respectively in honour of the late Lakmali Nanayakkara, an original Trustee of UMT. The winners for 2014 were Shehani Antoniette Leo from Holy Family Convent, Colombo 04 and Harsha Priyal of Richmond College, Galle. The Best Group Leaders Awards went to Dilan Perera, S. Thomas College, Mt. Lavinia (Male) and Safra Raslan, Muslim Ladies College, Galle (Female). The Most United Team Leader Award to Dilan Perera, S. Thomas College, Mt. Lavinia (Male) and T. Anusiya Penina, MN/ Thevenpiddy R.C.T.M.S., (female) The Champion Group Team Leaders Award went to Danul Bandara, Ananda College, Colombo 10 (Male) and Periya Kunchulam, R.C.T.M.S, Mannar (Female).
The camp received very positive accolades from various groups at its conclusion – this included a very senior official from the Northern Province Ministry of Education, who resided through all four days. He opined that he had not experienced this level of unity in all his years of long service of the equality that was shown to all participants – all sons and daughters of Mother Sri Lanka.
At the end of the Unity Camp, students were seen crying as they said goodbye to their new found friends from all parts of Sri Lanka promising to stay in touch and visit each other which is part of the commitment made at the camp. Groups getting together for a final ‘group hug’ and group cheer was very emotional to witness. This very real and previously unimagined levels of integrations and understanding between Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim students overcoming barriers to focus on the common factor of being Sri Lankan and being proud to be Sri Lankan was in visible display.
The final closing candle ceremony for students had them eventually chanting out ‘Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka’, bringing tears into the eyes of some of the adults who witnessed this.
Thus far the programs of UMT have been funded by concerned, caring citizens and a few discerning corporates. The greatest challenge that UMT has faced so far has been the generation of adequate funding since the inception. Finances of the Trust are audited by SJMS Associates, renowned professional accountancy firm.
In respect of Unity Camp 7, UMT is grateful for the support of their main Corporate Sponsors – People’s Bank, MAS Holdings, Nestle Lanka, Unilever Ceylon Ltd, Coco Veranda as well as the Hospitality Partner – Mirissa; and Bay Resorts who came forward to provide accommodation for those assisting with the execution of the program.
The UMT is currently structured as a non-profit voluntary organisation governed by a Board of Trustees, an Executive Management Team, an Operations Team and a pool of volunteers who are available to support ground level projects.
Youth Leadership Councils
In addition, UMT is strengthened by Regional Youth Leadership Councils that have been set up in nine different provinces and the National Youth Leadership Council that links together all Regional Councils. The National Youth Leadership Council of UMT is made up of 30 outstanding young men and women from all parts of the nation-all of whom were former Unity Campers and have attended various UMT programs.
These young leaders are supported by Regional Councils which are headed by the various Regional Coordinators who sit on the NYLC. At Unity Camp 7 – many volunteers travelled from Kilinochchi, Mannar, Vavuniya, Batticaloa, etc. to assist the UMT Team that executed the program.
UMT also has a group of senior consultants, who are mostly retired senior education officers, who have volunteered their time towards the work of the Unity Mission Trust. UMT in addition to its leadership programs conducts English classes and has in place an educational scholarship scheme for outstanding student leaders.
Building a new Sri Lanka
Further, UMT encourages and partakes in the development of the skills of these young leaders so that they will then understand and accept their status as equal sons and daughters of a beautiful Mother Lanka and move forward united as one, to build a new Sri Lanka, a Sri Lanka that has the strength of its entire people, heralding in the most wonderful part of our history.
You can find out more about UMT’s Journey of Love at www.unitymision.lk and on Facebook at: Unity Mission Trust (UMT).