Friday, September 29, 2006

Children's voices for peace

"All wars, just or unjust, disastrous or victorious , are waged against the child"

- Eglantyne Jebb (1876 – 1928) British humanitarian, founder of the Save the Children Fund and the International Save the Children Union, and author of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, adopted by the League of Nations, 1924.

Universal Children's Day will be held on October 1st 2006. Children from twenty three districts got together under one roof at Waters Meet Convention Centre (La Sallian Centre) in Mutwal, Colombo 15 on September 29th 2006.

This unique gathering brought children from Ampara, Anuradhapura, Badulla, Batticaloa, Colombo, Galle, Gampaha, Hambantota, Kalutara, Kandy, Kegalle, Kurunegala, Mannar, Matale, Matara, Moneragala, Nuwara Eliya, Polonnaruwa, Puttlam, Ratnapura, Trincomalee, Vavuniya districts. Children from Jaffna and Kilinochchi districts could not attend due unavailability of transport. But they sent in their comments for the Year of the Child National Forum, which will be held on October 1st 2006 at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall.

Sixty four children between the ages of 11 and 18 representing all ethnic, religious, and regional groups. Extensive consultations with over 1,500 children were held in these districts during the past four months. The children have identified their current concerns on education, health, protection and safety, recreation, and other matters. They will present these key issues on October 1 st 2006, at the National Forum.

"We had teachers from Jaffna. But they all left, because of the current situation. Therefore we do not have teachers to teach us in the school. We were affected by earlier war. We wanted to improve our education during the ceasefire. Now due to the escalated violence, our educational activities have come to a stand still once again. When there is a war in a country, the worst affected of a community are the children. 70% of the children are affected by war, according to a recent research. Therefore we do not want another dirty war in our country. We all want peace" says Derrik Cruz (15), a student of Arippu Navodaya Vidyalayam in Mannar

" I was displaced from Mannar to Puttlam in 1990, when I was just a born baby. There is a misunderstanding among the Muslim community regarding the Tamil community after the recent incident in Muthur. Likewise there is a misunderstanding among the Sinhala community about the Tamil community, and vice versa. We cannot blame anybody for this. Because the incident led us to misunderstandings. We as children have to understand each other, and each other's community better in order to have a violent free future for us, and for our sister and brothers in Sri Lanka" says Fathima Nirosha Mahroof (16), a student of Muslim Maha Vidyalayam in Puttlam

"I live in fear. Because I live in a border village, I do not know when my village and people will be attacked by the terrorists. I sleep in the jungle, and daily walk a long way to school. There a lot of children, who have given up their studies due to fear. Children have suffered a lot due to war. Children have to get together and act together" says Hemantha Jeyaweera (18), a student of Movila Oya Sripala Maha Vidyalaya in Moneragala

"I have a Tamil friend, who is also living in the same village. But due to fear and despair we do not meet each other. It's a shame, but we can't help. Because both communities do not like us meeting each other due to the prevailing situation in the East. We as children have to build bonds, not break bonds" says M.S. Arafat (17), a student of Al- Noor National School in Valaichchenai

"There are no Tamils living in my village. But I have heard about how the other communities suffered during the height of the war. I felt sorry for them. I am glad to meet my Tamil, Muslim brothers and sisters from North and East here. I want to make friends with Tamils and Muslims. There are many Sinhala friends of mine, who want to be friends of Tamils and Muslims" says Krishna Priyadharshini (15), a student of Dehigolla Maha Vidyalaya in Mahiyangana

"I met the children from the Sinhala community for the first time. They are very nice. Although we have language barriers to communicate, I feel comfortable with them. And I want to try and talk to as many as possible friends" says Prasala Selvarasa (14), a student of Bharathi Vidyalayam in Batticaloa

" I neither witnessed the war nor suffered directly. But I understand the effects of a war. A lot people are affected in numerous ways due to more than two decades of ethnic conflict. We all have to compromise" says Nimali Deepika (17), a student of S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike National School in Kurunegala

"People use an alarm clock to wake up in the morning. But we, who are living in the Eastern part of Sri Lanka wake up with shells and bombs. We are quite used to this system. Our fundamental rights are violated. We make noise, but it's not heard anywhere. We have no assurance for our lives, anything can happen to us anytime. People are suffering in various ways. Innocent people are caught in cross fires. We need peace immediately to stop all violence in the country" says Sylvester Kamalraj (15), a student of Mandoor Maha Vidyalayam in Batticaloa

" Children should stay away from politics. We should not take sides. It's easy to mislead the children. But we should not be misled. Children have to understand the feelings of others, and respect them. We should not discriminate the other communities" says Noorul Nisha Caseem (16), a student of Lunugala Tamil Maha Vidyalayam in Badulla

Jeyanthi Hemamali (11) from Matale sings "Smile While Live" a theme song for the Universal Children's Day along with her friends