Beyond Borders Festival Sri Lanka – a Success!

Review by – Smriti Daniel [First appeared here]

SL BB Fest pic

The tragic tale unfolds before you. Prasad, young and thoughtless, flirts with danger and is burned. Not just singed, but burned. His is a terrible fate, a terrible price, a terrible burden – for you soon discover that Prasad has AIDS. He dies before your very eyes, rejected and alone…and then the whole thing starts again.

At this point, you’re probably already a little suspicious, so we’ll just admit it. Prasad is in a play and yes this is just theatre, but then again, it’s also theatre with a difference. Here you get the opportunity to, yell ‘stop’ as loud as you can, and then step up to change the course of someone’s very existence. Kind of more fun this way, wouldn’t you say?

As you can imagine, these forum theatre sessions were one of the highlights of the Beyond Borders Festival, organised by the British Council in partnership with the Rotaract Club. They also perhaps best embodied this youth festivals theme – ‘see, think, act’. Held on 27 and 28 March, the event was all about young people empowering other young people through sharing and interaction. A host of workshops, various presentations, discussions and of course, the Junction concert, was packed into 2 days of nearly non-stop activity. Joining the festival coordinators were nearly 1,000 participants from local schools, along with Core Group Members (CGMs) of the Beyond Borders projects in the UK, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

Substance abuse, conflict resolution, youth activism and citizenship were some other burning issues addressed at the festival workshops and discussions. ‘Some 20 people would literally break down in each HIV AIDS session,’ says Dinidu, referring to the emotional punch these issues packed for the participants. ‘It was like walking into a concrete wall…it hits you right in the face.’ So much so that conversation on these vital topics even overflowed out into the tea breaks and rest periods – when international CGMs and local school children were given the chance to mix and mingle.

BB fest LogoThe likes of Sanjana Hattotuwa, Prof. Ravindra Fernando, Harsha Fernando, Prof. Lal Jayakody, Robert Vander Wall, T F Lyne and Nedra Wickremasinghe held interactive sessions which addressed many of these issues directly, covering the spectrum from Youth Activism and Substance Abuse to Social Etiquette and Effective Public Speaking. All the sessions were put into a context their largely youthful audience could relate to. Harsha Fernando’s Conflict Resolution workshop for instance, dealt with conflict at home – between children and parents in particular. Obviously, while provoking much laughter and participation, the workshops all gave their young participants both a fresh perspective as well as the tools to cope with such problems.

However, everyone agrees that Junction – the concert that accompanied the Beyond Borders Festival – was just about the best part. The National Anthems from all five countries being played right at the beginning set the tone for what was to be an evening showcasing the Sri Lankan culture at it’s joyous, most vibrant self . Fusion Drummers, Kandyan Dancers, the Hewisi Band from St Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia, our local pop icons Bhathiya and Santhush as well as the children from the Sunera foundation turned the event into an extravaganza of simple entertainment as well as learning.

‘The concert was titled Junction – the idea being that this is the place where everything meets,’ says Nafisa, a CGM. And apparently everything did. ‘The concert was absolutely flawless,’ says one Dinidu, ‘it just flowed.’ Of special note was the Sunera Foundation’s play. Titled Hansageetha, it featured around 30 differently-abled children was one of the presentations at the festival that received much appreciation. ‘It was about how nothing can be taken by force, but how by love and compassion everything can be achieved,’ says Nipuni. Part of the enthusiastic audience were 30 children from the Shanthi home – a haven for children from the less privileged parts of Colombo.

‘It’s been such an amazing experience,’ says Sheetal Survase, one of the Core Group Members from Sri Lanka. Admittedly it was sometimes demanding, and stress levels were often running high. Yet, young people rising to the challenge is what Beyond Borders is all about. Acting as a platform on which young people from various countries can come together to share and address issues related to Identity, Diversity and Active Citizenship, the program facilitates more than communication, it helps individuals build bridges. ‘Beyond Borders is all about discovering different ways of relating and interacting and in particular finding different ways of resolving conflicts,’ said Tony O’Brien, Director of the British Council, Sri Lanka, ‘it’s a program designed by young people, for young people.’

‘It’s all been so well organized, the activism projects in particular were really jaw dropping,’ said Janneke, a CGM from the UK. She added that the whole program had been ‘really intense; I simply loved seeing the differences and the similarities between us.’ Ayesha, another foreign CGM, this time from India, seconded the notion and added that she thought there was tremendous potential here. ‘If young people can sustain this sort of activity with all the professionalism and focus that the Sri Lankan team has shown, there are so many opportunities, so many challenges we can meet successfully.’

All the teams were given a chance to introduce themselves and their work over the two days of the festival. They were all clear about one thing – that the Beyond Borders program has been something that has changed their lives, and that of their fellow core group members, profoundly. It became obvious, that for teams from all over the world, Beyond Borders have literally lifted them above all borders, giving them the perspective and the spirit to embrace the world and try to set it right.

When asked what she thought the importance of such festivals was, Shameema Akberally, the leader of the Sri Lankan teams said – ‘by attending festivals, and interacting with CGMS abroad, we are given the opportunity to witness a new culture, and therefore understand it and its people better.’ She also explained that the opportunity to share ideas and work together on common social issues encouraged her belief that ‘although boundaries divide our countries – the social issues remain very similar; you also learn more about yourself as a person, being forced to re-examine your perception of both yourself and others.’

So it is that after months of hard work, the Beyond Borders Festival, Sri Lanka, is finally over. The rooms are empty, the workshops are over, all the laughing, talking, dancing and celebrating is done; all the people who for a few days worked hand in hand, and heart in heart, have now returned home – wherever that may be. But one thing’s for certain, this is far from the end. In fact, many would call this simply the beginning.

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Posted on 04/07/2006, in Events-Activities-Announcements, HIV/AIDS, India, Kids, Peace-Conflict-Governance, Sex - Sexuality - Gender, Sri Lanka, Youth-Culture-Society. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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