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Sri Lanka’s Youth Plan for Sustainable Development

The Rio+20 Summit is in full swing and the Sri Lankan arm has taken its first initiative, in which a statement has been presented to the Minister of Environment. Post-war Sri Lanka certainly is in need of a system of sustainable development and at this stage the country has a fresh start in which adopting such a system is relatively trouble free; or so it should be.

The statement that encapsulates several vital areas in sustainable development was drafted by over 30 youth-led and youth-focus local organizations that are involved in environmental conservation, management, climate change, sustainable development and advocacy for environmental issues. Bringing these organizations together and orchestrating Sri Lanka’s participation in the Rio Summit, is the Youth for a Greener Sri Lanka (YGSL) that was established earlier this year (March 2012). The statement is a position paper on which future projects will be based. The paper was presented to the Ministry of Environment, as the ministry had arranged for the involvement of youth groups in the process. Nashen Gunesekera, the drafting committee chair, says it shows the enthusiasm of the government as other governments had not involved environmental conscious volunteer groups, apart from the ministry’s own.

Attaining sustainable development

A large team of local environmentally conscious youths has formulated a multipronged action plan, addressing several key areas that are intrinsic in the development of a nation. Top of the list and under the umbrella of youth policy positions, the statement mentions society’s role in sustainable development. The activists believe that equality is essential, they explained “our aspiration is equality for all, and not the luxury of the 20 per cent of the world’s people who enjoy the exploitation of 80 per cent of its resources.”

Well-being and happiness as well as right mindfulness were also highlighted as the cornerstone to sustainable development. Society being at the heart of development, even with an extraordinary physical plan, it cannot fruition sans the right mindset of the people.

The economy is another key area that needs to be addressed, and therefore, the team included environmental sustainability and poverty reduction, and a Green Economy in the statement. YGSL explains, “A Green Economy should replace the current economic order of inequity, destruction and greed. A Green Economy should be an economic system that ensures social equity, protects the ecological balance and creates economic sufficiency. The core idea of a Green Economy should be to enforce sustainability, specifically the wellbeing of all people and respecting and preserving the biodiversity of Earth’s ecosystems.

A green economy manages consumption and production in an environmentally conscious manner. The document indicated, Agenda 21 (Chapter 4.3), which is an outcome of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED 1992) states that; “The major cause of the continued deterioration of the global environment is the unsustainable pattern of consumption and production, particularly in industrialized countries, which is a matter of grave concern, aggravating poverty and imbalances.” According to the team enabling the SCP should be the focus of any emerging international outcome. SCP is a systemic process of lifestyle and livelihood behaviours that ensures the wellbeing of all people in an equitable manner while conserving the ecology for current and future generations.

Political solutions are on the cards as well as sustainable development governance, which they said, “We understand Sustainable Development Governance should necessarily create platforms at every level for the voice of youth to be heard and to be considered within the decision making processes, for it is on the shoulders of youth the responsibility rests.”

On that note they believe it is necessary to establish an office for the ombudsperson — high commission for future generations. “We the youth representatives of Youth for a Greener Sri Lanka understand that there is a lacuna in current decision making processes and institutions of the world, especially as all of them fail to consider the long term effects of decisions made today. The proposal stated at paragraph 57 of the Zero Outcome document calling for the establishment of an Ombudsperson/High Commissioner for Future Generations is thus an opportunity to meet this short coming and by establishing such an office, we believe that both the aspirations of youth and future generations will be protected.”

How Sustainable Development Can be Achieved

The team also presented a set of recommendation that can be adopted by the Government of Sri Lanka as well as the governments in the international arena. They laid emphasis on the inclusion of the youth at all levels of decision making so the future can be shaped to suit the next generation better. The team expressed, “We wish to state by participation, youth are empowered and are given the opportunity to develop to their fullest potential hence enabling them to harness their skills required to move the world toward the paradigm shift which is necessary to achieve economic growth, social equity and environmental sustainability.”

Employment for the youth is also mandatory for a better greener future, according to the local Rio+20 Summit members. “At present there is a lack of green job initiatives and access to green skills training programmes for young people. We believe bridging the skills gap among young people through improved education and training will be a key to achieving environmental objectives and a transition to a green economy.”

Education and training  —  skills development opportunities, the opportunity for youth to volunteer to achieve sustainable development.

The President will present the paper as part of the country report at the summit. Neshan Gunesekara said, “The international community will analyze, scrutinize and criticize the paper. The point of presenting the paper at an international forum is so that other countries can take stock of what Sri Lanka has achieved over the years and adopt some of these strategies that will help them.

He added that, he personally believes that the youth of Sri Lanka is very environmentally conscious, and they have shown an initiative but what they lack, is the support of the government and other authorities, in implementing plans and taking their concerns into consideration.

Well, that’s good news for BB too. Having particular goals will help us channel our efforts in these areas and those connected to contribute to sustainable development in Sri Lanka. It should also make devising project plans easier. So three cheers to our Rio paper!

-Megara Tegal

Meg is a member of the steering committee of Beyond Borders. She’s a journalist and a world class klutz. She blogs here. Her opinions are her own.

Fixing educashun


I was not a student who academically excelled in School. Whilst scoring high in subject such as Maths and Science, I was horrible at the subjects that required one to “study” for them. And even though I find writing absolutely enjoyable now, it was not so when I was in school. My teachers made me hate the subject.

A lot of people have been arguing for comprehensive reforms in Sri Lanka’s education sector. This would have to come in the form of reforming the methodology of teaching, reforming the systems of learning, and a complete revamp of the curricula.

Looking at how state funded schools are being used, we have to realize that schools are useless things, most of the time. Let me explain.

Read the rest of this entry

Our TOT on Citizenship Education

working on something

working on something

Went well. Most of the guys who applied were a bit older than we expected, but we had diverse range of  organizations and backgrounds were represented. Hopefully some of these guys would start their own initiatives of civic education in their communities. 

What Beyond Borders hopes to achieve is to create a bunch of people competent enough to run workshops with young people so that they get exposed to and start thinking about citizenship issues, something which doesn’t happen with the official education system in Sri Lanka.

Soon, we will be publishing a toolkit of sorts containing activities, games and sessions on citizenship issues.  The toolkit  can be utlizied by anyone with a passion and dedication for civic issues to design and run training sessions, workshops, etc. for young people. Watch this space for more. The project is supported by Oxfam Australia through OIYP.

Event Pictures on Flickr.

Let’s Learn….Gibberish!

Ever heard of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade? Or Ian Serrailier’s horror-inspiring Grendel? Or even modern poet Gwen Strauss’s take on Cinderella- a deep lyric with death, sadness, sarcasm & even undertones of sex in it.

Well if you are a serious student of literature, like myself, you probably would have.

Now think of an 8 –10 year old trying to perform this to an examiner at a Speech and Drama examination.

I was at the unfortunate receiving end of little children trying to perform poems & works too advanced conceptually & in every other conceivable way in Kurunegala recently, which brings me to express my absolute horror at what extents some people will go to, to earn money.

Sri Lanka is possessed by the Elocution craze. Forget Spoken English, kids must learn to perform ridiculously advanced poems & drama in front of their adoring parents (who themselves do not understand whether their kids are speaking English or gibberish!).

I have seen a 2-year-old put through the utter trauma of public performance of a poem, when he barely has mastered the basics of language. His mother, no more able to speak English, was asking me to convince the bawling & terribly afraid child to get up on stage and say a poem he did not understand, & much was her disappointment that the child could not. I mean, COME ON! Grown adults cannot master stage fright with full command of language, imagine a child so young trying to say words he does not understand to an audience where everyone else is at least four times his size!

Teaching English is a double-edged sword. Yes, children must learn the language, and the younger they are when they start, the better. In a country as small as ours where the two mother tongues would be practically useless anywhere else in the world, the language of the seas is quintessential for survival.

Few dedicated teachers who have mastered the language & the aspects of speech & drama with all its technicalities, will judge each child on his or her merits, & teach them poems/prose/drama/speech that suits their individual ability. Although not a teacher myself, as a trained performer & examiner, I can tell when a teacher knows his/her stuff & has more importantly COMPREHENDED the student-its all obvious from the student’s manner.

But then there are those who have abused the qualification those such as myself have put years of practice, dedication & passion into achieving. Say they have a minimum grade 8 qualification from the Trinity College of Speech and Drama. Most teachers, being women who would rather stay at home and teach than go out to work (again, their prerogative) and have absolutely NO experience on stage or in performance of any sort except at an examination will advertise & poor parents will send their children in droves to learn to imitate (usually very wrong) phonetic sounds of an alien language. The result? Frustrated examiners & students, & the English language being transformed into nothing but NOISE.

Not even the basics of diction like pronouncing the consonants at the end of a word. No thought for interpretation of choices & discussing them… nothing! And 8-year-old girls telling me poems about a first brush with sex when I don’t think they have even heard of the word sex! Ridiculous!

All I can do is write very strong comments to teachers, & hope that in their greed for money, the poor children in rural areas out of Colombo will not be hoodwinked into thinking they are learning English when they are learning to make strange noises!

-Nipuni is a part time examiner for speech & drama and spoken English.. and hates languages being mutilated! She is also Core Group Member of Beyond Borders. Views expressed are her own.

Majority minority mentality, Minority majority mentality…

Last Friday I finished my summer internship at a frontline Architecture firm in London. It was a wonderful experience, Learning things about architecture was almost “not primary” (emphasise on almost). All that I observed and learnt were an amalgam of Architecture, people, stereotypes/or absence of it and about life itself.

I was guided at work right throughout by someone to whom I have utmost respect for and I am very thankful to him for his monotonously consistent guidance and advice in instilling in me (more so by triggering my thinking than by spoon feeding) valuable snippets of guidelines in terms life and how our life impacts that of others, and to be very conscious and vigilant of a very dangerous doctrine “actions begotten by assumptions”.

Most of my colleagues at work were British, the top most people were all British, but there were staff member s from other parts of Europe as well. I happened to be one of two south Asians (the only Asians) and the only Muslim, I say this only to make my post more related and less vague.

I had studied about the founder of this firm for Architectural history in university as a pioneer of post modernist architecture in Britain, and hence I took with me to work romantic notions of the firm and a little bit of pressure to perform and stay on par with the others. My pre conceived ideas are well justified at this point that I have left, I am certain there may be a certain bias in what I am saying, simple because I have not worked in any other architecture firm in the UK.

Many things at the workplace surprised me a lot, little things like person to person communication and love and respect for the other.  Every single week that I was there, someone always brought something for everyone to eat, and except for individual lunches every other food brought in was always shared by everyone else in the floor. A packet of biscuits that someone brings always goes around, one passing it to the other and when everyone have had more than their share it ends up on top of the table close to the entrance for anyone who wants another to take.

We don’t have a tea boy/girl, we have a kitchen with all things necessary for an office and whenever we want we used to go and prepare or take whatever we wanted, and no tabs or record were kept. When someone felt like it, he or she would suddenly stand up and go around the floor with a pen and a post it note asking what people wanted to drink and that person would prepare tea or coffee or whatever other thing asked for and bring it on a large tray. This happened every single day, and I too had the pleasure of doing this several times.

When someone went on a holiday, the return of that person is eagerly awaited, apart from it being nice to have the person back the “taken for granted” idea of that person always bringing sweets for everyone else is something much looked forward to. And I was quite fortunate that during my stint at work almost every week someone was returning from a short summer vacation, hence the abundant supply of sweets.

These may all sound very usual happenings; yes in Sri lanka these may not be unusual at all. But for me it was very unusual, at university here I have got used to very normal scenes of people just eating in front of the other and never offering to share what they eat, and people don’t even expect to be offered a share of what the other eats. It’s not necessarily a negative thing, in here its usual, and no one would bat an eyelid.

In uni I have begun to embrace the notion that it is too condescending for someone to be caught sharing another’s lunch, very contrasting indeed to the culture in boys schools back in Sri lanka where ten guys finish up one “bath packet” and run to the next person who shows any inclination of opening his lunch, the owner of the lunch normally aims to at least have a mouthful of rice and manage to take for himself the piece of meat, fish or egg which he would have had in his lunch, but his hunger is more than satisfied when he joins the band of hungry boys to devour another fellow classmates lunch.  Even if someone didn’t get enough for lunch his “fit eka” or camaraderie with the others more than compensates. I don’t know what form this takes in girl’s schools.

Sharing here from what I have seen at uni,used to take place when the thing being shared was booze or if the sharer was boozed up.


By these I don’t mean to say that everyone in university subscribes to this culture, surely not.. but these are just general observations.

So that’s how it was, but coming back to the very thought that instigated this post.

It is office tradition that when someone leaves, he/she is given a proper sending off and then everyone goes to the pub for a final round of drinks with the person who is leaving. When I was being officially thanked and wished by everyone..a few words which one of the partners told me stuck me quite quote “I am sure everyone would love to go with you for a little celebration, but I understand that you can’t have anything for about one and a half hours” ( I don’t remember the exact words). What he meant was that since it was Ramadan and I was fasting I won’t be able to have anything to eat or drink. Eventually I didn’t go for drinks, thus slightly being a stepson to office tradition, but it was very well accepted and respected.

With this ongoing war on terror and other actions induced by media hype, people do have friction and difficulties in going on with life if you happen to be a minority, I will not debate that, but I am glad that I was respected for my identity and integrity and accommodated with no iota of stereotypical attitude or bias. Work colleagues knew that I will not come for lunches on Fridays because I go for Jummah prayers, and that too was well taken.

I mentioned someone at the beginning of this post, when I reminded him of what the partner told when I was going, he in return reminded me that people who are well educated and well read love to learn about other cultures and are accommodative of such colleagues who exercise their cultural necessities (obviously when it is within office principles and norms). Issues do take place, people are indeed held on account for things they did not do but then every dark cloud does have a silver lining. I for one have been very fortunate and I am thankful to god for the not so mere fact that right throughout my life I have been judged for the person I am and the way I deal with others and not on account for the ideology I subscribe to.

I would like to quote something from one of the many emails that have been exchanged between the two of us on a whole plethora of topics.

  • Can someone bully us, if we are not prepared to get bullied? I blame both the oppressor and the oppressed! What do you think?
  • BTW – I don’t like the word ‘Minority’, just as much as I dislike ‘Majority’.
  • ‘Minority Mentality’ – ‘Majority Mentality’ – ‘Majority Minority Mentality’ – Minority Majority Mentality’…?
  • Our grandfathers & fathers’ generations have done enough damage, now we (not you) are continuing with ‘destruction’, what will ‘Your’ generation do?
  • Are you going to STOP US?
  • Are you going to CHANGE US?

This post is dedicated with profound gratitude to this tutor, work colleague and friend of mine mentioned above, who has constantly reminded me and helped to shovel the snow off the pathway.

— Raashid Riza

Raashid is a Sri Lankan BB-ite and currently an undergraduate student of Architecture based in the UK. Sometimes he blogs at ‘Navigation on Balance’

When will the teachers learn?

There is a strong nexus between HIV/AIDS and poverty, especially in the most poverty-stricken areas in Africa.  The World Bank Blog, Ending Poverty in South Asia exploring whether HIV could have similar negative effects in the development of South Asia  relates an interesting story from Sri Lanka,

Young people, one of the more vulnerable groups in society, are not getting enough (or any) education about AIDS.  One Sri Lankan at the conference [ICAAP8] said his high-school biology teacher, noting that chapter 17 of the textbook was about sexuality, said that only chapters 1-16 would be on the exam.   [link]

This is quite common for Sri Lankan teachers, the reasons are a combination of societal taboo about sex and their own weak understanding of sexuality. Someone should teach the teachers!