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Building Harmony in Addalaichenai

I’m Mohamed Farook Najeeth (28), and I led the SEDRxActiveCitizens[1] project, 'Lifetime Dream,' in Addalaichenai, Ampara[2]. Our goal was to bring together our community which has been divided by disputes for many years.

In partnership with the European Union-funded SEDR project, and our local partner, Muslim Aid Sri Lanka (MASL), I received training in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) as part of a group of 25 SEDR Active Citizens. The training workshops helped me to identify disputes, how to gradually address their root causes, seek ways to resolve them, and to strive to find win-win solutions. This training also helped me understand the issues causing tension in our community.

To apply these new knowledge and skills, our group of Active Citizens focused on two neighbouring Muslim communities residing in the villages of Palamunai, Oluvil[3] where land disputes and political grievances had caused many problems between them in the past.

Our problem-analysis revealed elders in the community kept repeating stories about the wrongdoings of the other village, which made people angry. We also learned from the former Grama Niladhari Officer[4], that politicians had a hand in keeping the disputes alive, even spreading rumours about one village being a base for a separatist group. This fear and misinformation caused distrust and, in some cases, even violence between the people of the two villages.

In 2010, the Pradeshiya Sabha (local council) tried to put up a village nameboard for Palamunai to mark its borders properly, but the people of Oluvil didn't like it and got rid of it, making things worse. The neighbouring village felt Palamunai received more resources from the local council for development projects, especially during COVID-19, because they had a higher population and more political support.

Aiming to bring these communities closer together using skills from our ADR training we, despite initial doubts, engaged the local youth and organised dialogues with key stakeholders, including mosque leaders. With help from government officials at the Divisional Secretariat, we successfully hosted cultural events based on village traditions, involving both youth and elders as well as civil society organisations and local politicians. A beach cleanup further united the villages toward a common goal.

One important step in building trust between the two communities was creating the Youth Reconciliation Committee (YRC), which consisted of 40 young people from both local villages and the town of Addalaichenai. The YRC also received training in ADR methods and approaches, building their own capacity to identify and better understand how to resolve community level disputes.  The YRC also worked closely with the Addalaichenai Community Mediation Board, using their experience to guide YRC members to help solve problems in our community.

Implementing our social action wasn’t always easy. We faced challenges, but with support from MASL and our mentors, we kept going. Looking back, I’m proud of what we achieved. Our work shows that when we facilitate better understanding between conflicting groups, then communities come together, and this enables them to overcome even the toughest challenges.

[1] Active Citizens is a social leadership training methodology which promotes intercultural dialogue and community-led social development, playing an important role in SEDR’s approach to supporting alternative dispute resolution mechanisms in resolving community level disputes.

[2] Addalaichenai is a small town located in the Ampara district of Sri Lanka, in the Eastern Province. 

[3] Palamunai and Oluvil are both small farming villages in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka, mainly engaged in agriculture and fishing activities.

[4] A ‘Grama Niladhari Officer’ is the grassroots level administrator in the Sri Lankan state, responsible for a demarcated area.

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