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Mediating community grievances through effective communication

I am Piyumi Nisansala (22), the Reporter for the SEDRxActiveCitizens’s [1] Social Action Project (SAP) implemented in the village of Thalakumbura in the Badulla District of the Uva Province in Sri Lanka.


Together with a group of 24 women and youth from the Uva province, I was fortunate enough to participate in a series of SEDRxActiveCitizens training workshops, funded by the European Union (EU) and facilitated by the Uva Shakthi Foundation. These workshops took us on a journey of discovery through the world of projects and equipped us with the tools to better understand disputes through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) methods and to implement social action in response to community level grievances.

I was personally transformed through the very first training itself. In addition to learning about ADR’s ability to create win-win solutions, I also learnt how to effectively carry out a skill fundamental to any successful ADR process – communicating. My initial self-consciousness about my youth and inability to speak in front of an audience gradually disappeared with the training delivered by the ADR mentor. Together with my teammates, I was taught how to engage with government officials, gather feedback and communicate effectively with the leaders and members of my community - ensuring their participation in the social action we initiated.  


We identified a specific source of conflict in Thalakumbura, and the three local areas which comprised it – namely Ihalagama, Pahalagama and Aepalagama. We understood there was a lack of access to information by local communities regarding public and social activities occurring in Thalakumbura, partially caused by numerous communication gaps.


These had arisen in 2019 when news of an important fertilizer distribution initiative by the government had only been communicated to residents of one area, rather than the other two, causing local resentment. These tensions were heightened by the fact that the majority of village committees (or ‘samithi’) -including women’s organisations and farmer’s organisations - were dominated by members of the Pahalagama area. Representation from Ihalagama and Aepalagama was low, restricting their voice and agency as residents of Thalakumbura. The COVID-19 pandemic had also worsened the lack of communication and access to information about government services for the latter two areas. This in turn gave rise to multiple disputes between the communities in this locality.


Therefore, aiming to resolve these identified disputes, we named our SAP ‘Sahajeevanaya Agayana Sannivedana Sabandiyavak’ - which translates to ‘A Communicative Bond That Values Co-Existence’- and planned a range of social actions according to the SEDRxActiveCitizens methodology. As its name states, we sought to establish effective communication through our activities, which included conducting awareness campaigns about our vision and mission for the village and gaining support from the relevant government officials serving in the Thalakumbura Grama Niladhari (GN) Divisions and the leaders of the targeted communities. We also carried out an awareness session to enhance community leaders' attitudes, communication skills and knowledge in dealing with local level disputes.


We practiced what we learnt in the ADR training, striving for a ‘win-win’ solution, where we did not directly offer solutions, but rather through discussion and dialogue were able to mediate sessions that resulted in the groups themselves coming up with suitable solutions. Based on this process, we supported the local communities in the creation of two directories (one in hard copy and one in electronic format) which contained information about government employees in the Thalakumbura GN, organisations that provided community services, and representatives of all active societies, in addition to information about residents of each village. We also supported the establishment of a WhatsApp group so all community leaders could more actively communicate and coordinate with each other, building better understanding and creating conditions where information is communicated in a transparent manner.


The project and the ADR training we received not only established better communication and improved cohesion in the local communities where we implemented our social action, but also amongst us youth. It empowered us with many skills: we learnt how to identify the root cause of a dispute, and how to harness the benefits of mediation – along with the more technical aspects of designing a project and knowing how to implement it in terms of budget-planning, reporting and monitoring. Most importantly, we learnt how to work within our team, and towards a common goal, while respecting diverse opinions.


These experiences, made possible through the EU-funded SEDR project, contributed not only to my personal growth and to making a positive impact in my local community, but also to helping us as a group of young Sri Lankans, to realise the importance of mediating win-win solutions.

[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.

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