Five teenage schoolchildren from Sri Lanka who had lost a family member to an act of terrorism attended this year’s ‘Project Common Bond’, a weeklong peace building and conflict resolution program held in the US. The program was organised by Tuesday’s Children, a New York based non-profit organisation serving the needs of those affected by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack in the US, as well as other victims of international terrorism and their families.
Responding to a request made by the Embassy of Sri Lanka, Tuesday’s Children generously granted the opportunity for the Sri Lankan students affected by terrorism to attend this inspiring and rewarding program. The group comprising of three female and two male students became the second batch of Sri Lankan students to benefit from this year’s nine day ‘Project Common Bond’ program now in its fifth year. Last year too, a group of six Sri Lankan students attended ‘Project Common Bond’ for the first time.
This year’s ‘Project Common Bond’ program was held from 12 July to 20 July at the Governor’s Academy in Byfield, Massachusetts. The participants followed a curriculum designed by Harvard University Law School and Weatherhead Centre for International Affairs in Cambridge. The program incorporated therapeutic community-building activities, conflict resolution, peace into action projects and team events designed to foster trust, healing, cooperation and communication.
The aim of the program as elaborated by the host organisation is to “impact the lives of young people who have suffered a similar loss as a result of an act of terrorism – and in doing so, give them the skills they need to make a difference in the lives of others.”
During the program the Sri Lankan students shared their personal experiences with youth from the United States, Argentina, Ireland, Israel, Northern Ireland, Palestine, Russia and Spain, Algeria, France, Morocco, Nigeria and Pakistan.
On the completion of the program the students embarked on a two-day educational tour in Washington DC arranged by the Embassy of Sri Lanka. During this study tour the students visited the national museums, historical monuments, the White House and Capitol Hill.
The Embassy of Sri Lanka, Sri Lankan – American community members in Boston and in the Greater Washington Area felicitated the visiting Sri Lankan students.
The students were able to visit Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), New England Buddhist Vihara and other landmarks in the outskirts of Boston with the Sri Lankan – American community members in the area.
During a reception for the students held in Virginia, a group of Sri Lankan – American benefactors presented among other mementos laptop computers to each student to assist with their learning.
Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of Sri Lanka Ambassador Esala Weerakoon speaking at this gathering reminisced painful past under the clutches of terrorism and expressed his empathy with the losses suffered by the students.
“We suffered from the scourge of terrorism for three decades. These sons and daughters were directly affected from terrorism and they know the pain. We can empathise with you the pain you have gone through,” he said.
He also recognised the contribution the political leadership and the sacrifices made by the war heroes in eliminating terrorism and bringing back peace and security to the nation.
“It is the time to recognise the political leadership that His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa gave to eliminate once and for all the menace of terrorism from Sri Lanka .Also, at the same time we have to reflect and think of all those valiant heroes in the armed services and the police who sacrificed their lives to fight the menace of terrorism,” he added. The students left the US for Sri Lanka on 24 July. The participants were; Ayodya Perera, Ridmi Wijetunge, Piyumi Wickramasinghe, Himesh Withanagama, Achira Samaranayake and Umayangani Abeyratna, Chaperone.