Posted by: thebluemusicblog | August 21, 2012


On the beach close to Jaffna, the biggest city in the North of the island

I said goodbye to the Change Agents from Asia Pacific. The session together with them was very encouraging and inspirational, I have great hopes for the near future, and we will share progress with you as soon as possible. Meanwhile we prepared to go north on the island, crossing the front line of the near past. But before that we paid visits to two interesting YMCAs in the capitol. One of them had a very pedagogical exhibition covering a lot of constructive issues for children, all from environmental protection to traffic signs (what a treat for me who collects photos of interesting traffic signs from around the world!)

I am not sure which of those two beasts below I would try hardest to run away from, even if the catfish would take more swimming than running, probably, and I am afraid the fish would have caught me. Good then that this one was already caught by some fishermen from the area. Beside these two creatures I found the head of an elephant and in the next room an exhibition of all the reptiles possible to encounter on the island – not a very inspiring exhibition remembering that we were heading for the jungle, so to say!

This was Negombo YMCA and they were running computer classes and sports programmes and ceramic and arts classes. They were still fundraising to complete their building, but using it fully already, which made walking the stairs a challenging exercise!

The YMCA in Sri Lanka has close links to Norway, over many years this relationship has developed with a lot of exchanges and good cooperation. The next YMCA we visited had a General Secretary who could speak fluent Norwegian to me. He had worked in a local YMCA in  Norway for a year. His YMCA had a kindergarden and primary school, and together with a number of other local YMCAs in Sri Lanka was running vocational training programmes.

The surroundings of the YMCA was very idyllic, and close to the YMCA we met a number of very friendly local fishermen mending their nets and preparing for another working day on the blue sea.

While the waves were waving goodbye, and spraying us with refreshing coolness, we said goodbye to Duncan and Yau and Kohei and late night we started our travel towards the North.

During the night we entered forests with wild elephants, and there were signs along the road warning against elephants crossing the road. Unfortunately we did not stop long enough for me to take a snapshot of the traffic signs, but then again we did not encounter any elephants, and we did not miss that, to be honest. Somewhere in the middle of the jungle we found the “Lakeview Hotel” and around 02.00 in the morning Fernando and I shared a room and had no problems falling asleep until 05.30 when the journey continued.

The roads became worse, and we could see heavy damage to the infrastructure, all signs of a terrible and long war between different groups inside the same country. When we came to the old front line, we were checked like going from one country to another, and the last thing you do in situations like that, is to take photos, so I hid my camera away. A bit later I saw the first signs along the road warning against land mines . That gave me the chills. A few metres from the road were fields with undetonated land mines, horrible weapons which still would face young people and children with dangers for a long time to come. See below the small red signs. In between the signs were a few “roads” of cleared fields, free of land mines.

There is no reason to misunderstand the message here:

Building peace and reconciliation is never easy. Improved infrastructure is an important part of peace work. The population needs to feel that times are improving. Therefore we saw a lot of construction, road building and repairs all around the North. Experiencing the roads we could testify that improvements were necessary!

Equally important is to engage children and young people in future oriented perspectives, to build hopes and meaningful education and job training. The YMCA is present, and has been, for the last century, both in the South and in the North. Outside Jaffna we were invited to watch the finals in the local YMCA football series. It was impressive to shake hands with the young people and knowing that some of them had been combatant, more of them came from families where the father and    some brothers either were missing or in camps, and knowing that just now they had decided to join the YMCA and invested their time and energy in constructive activities. I was happy to hand out the awards to the winning team and to give a short speech to the young people.

Not long ago I was in the jungle of Sierra Leone, also a country with a painful conflict behind them, just a few years back. Also there the YMCA is actively involved in engaging young people, in setting young people free from hopelessness and unemployment, empowering young people. The YMCA is close to young people in the most difficult and challenging situations. The YMCA comes close, comes to stay, will never leave. Unlike other organizations jumping from one disaster to the next, you will never see the tail of the YMCA disappearing on a dusty road. We may be slow in coming, but when we come,  we have come for good. That is the slogan of Greater New York YMCA: “YMCA has come for good”. That is the reality of the Jaffna YMCA in Sri Lanka. And that is the reality of 12 000 local YMCAs around the world.  12 000 local communities where young people see a ray of hope shining in front of them. Because the YMCA has come for good.

I say goodbye after a very impressive visit to Sri Lanka and our YMCA there. Look at this group of young people. Just now the NEW WAY is launching a campaign to collect funds for Change Agents. We want to intensify the work for these young people to become empowered. We want to see positive change taking place inside the YMCA so that we can build a stronger future for young people. Will you help us? Make a few phone calls to your local YMCA leaders, encourage the right people to engage. You are most likely one of the right people yourself! I would be happy to receive pledges here on the Blue Music Blog. All the best to all of you!

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