Just one evening at home between Y’s Men World Convention in Stavanger and my next travel to Sri Lanka, but one evening is enough to repack and find mosquito repellant, post a blog and get going. Emerates took me flying from Geneva to Dubai where I spent a few hours in shoppers’ paradise. I was not led into temptation, even if I was really surprised to find a book of 600 pages to describe the development of Tax Free Shopping at Dubai Airport. Fascinating. Shop till you drop! From Dubai to Colombo, Sri Lanka, I spent the early morning to fly into sunrise, and was picked up at the airport by my good friend Aruna Nones, whose son put flowers around my neck and I felt immediately very welcome. The flowers really made me look a lot more fresh than I felt. The minibus of the YMCA, which over the next week should feel much more like a home away from home than a bus, took me straight from the airport to the Norwegian Embassy where I had a very friendly meeting with the Ambassador and her staff and appealed to them to support the Change Agents of the YMCA. From there we were already late for the meeting with the British High Commissioner’s office, and having congratulated them with the Olympics and talked about chances of getting support for Change Agents through the Commonwealth system, we were already on our way to meet with the head of the governmental Youth Services. We had a really good meeting and discussed cooperation between Sri Lanka YMCA and them.
In-between the different meetings I was signing letters to local YMCA leaders who were present at the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Sri Lanka National Council of YMCAs. Jose Varghese had prepared the letters and was preparing the ground for conversations with them. Letters about what? Support for the Change Agents of course! And this may then be the right moment to introduce the Change Agents of Asia and Pacific Alliance of YMCAs (APAY):
You will find a few Secret Agents on this photo as well, like the Vice President of the World Alliance, the President of APAY, the Secretary Generals of APAY as well as of the WAY and Duncan and Elsie from the APAY staff and Jose from the WAY/Indian staff. But the rest of the people are Change Agents from all around the area of Asia and Pacific. My great compliments to the area organization for splendid work with the Change Agents, thank you to Yau Chung Wan (APAY President) and Kohei Yamada (APAY General Secretary) and all the staff and volunteers of APAY – you have all really understood what this is about! (If you do not know what Change Agents are about, please go back to one of the previous blog posts where you will find a solid presentation of the whole concept of YOUTH EMPOWERMENT IN ACTION, the Change Model of the World Alliance.) These wonderful young people spent a week of training for present and future leadership of the YMCA, and they will be integrated in the 200 Change Agents worldwide and go to Prague for the big Youth Festival August 2013 as well as to Estes Park for the World Council June 29, 2014. A great and fascinating journey lays in front of these young people. I spent an exciting time together with them and we started this journey together. Friends, you really inspired me!
The discussion was excellent and the questions they raised were to the point and very future oriented. I could feel a great motivation in the room, and I was proudly sitting at the front together with Yau and Kohei, the President and Secretary General of APAY to answer the questions together with them. This demonstrated in an excellent way how this system is a deeply rooted cooperation between all levels of the YMCA to bring about positive change, to wake up the Sleeping Giant and make the YMCA known in the world.
But now it was time to start the celebrations. Of course the YMCA has been longer than 50 years in Sri Lanka, and the local YMCA in Colombo, the capitol of the country, celebrated its 130th anniversary. This first evening in Sri Lanka, I was doubling up with my great friend and travel companion Fernando Ondarza from Mexico, our World Alliance Vice President. See below!
Fernando and I were decorated with fresh flowers and looked like we were coming out of the morning of Creation, parading into the YMCA where we were treated to a great presentation of sports programs and a splendid anniversary dinner.
Early next morning we dressed in formal attires and were taken to the previous Governor’s Palace. There Fernando and myself were again decorated with flowers and led by drummers and dancers in traditional costumes and again parading into the main hall where we together celebrated the anniversary, 50 years since the independent YMCA was established in independent Sri Lanka. Friends from around Asia and Pacific expressed their greetings and salutations and I was giving a speech – among other things focusing on – and, yes, you guessed rightly – Change Agents!
One of the slogans of Sri Lanka YMCA is “YMCA Taking the Youth to the Top!”, and another one is “YMCA Empowering Young People Through Vocational Training”. The war in Sri Lanka had been going on for more than thirty years, and now the YMCA is playing a crucial role in building peace and reconciliation, the YMCA being well established on both sides of the previous front lines. I was impressed by the programmes and energy in this YMCA, and very encouraged to see how it is possible for a YMCA in a difficult situation to become self sustainable. What was previously regarded as impossible in Sri Lanka, had been made possible by the YMCA leaders just learning to ask for donations and support. Lakshan Dias, the National General Secretary, is a great example of this new understanding of Resource Mobilisation. What a great perspective for the next 50 years of development. And lessons to be learnt by other YMCAs!
Lakshan J.S. Dias, the National General Secretary of the YMCAs of Sri Lanka
This young guy promises more about Sri Lanka and a travel from the South to the North of the island in my next blog post. Happy weekend, friends!