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"Notes from the Field": 
   Journal Entry # 1:
Bandaragama -- Days Two and Three 
 

 

BANDARAGAMA - DAYS TWO AND THREE:  Sri Lanka Journal # 1

(This entry is delayed by several days: the radio phone in Bandaragama is broken, so I am sending this on my return to Sarvodaya’s headquarters in Moratuwa.)

I’ve got a rare evening alone.  I just finished hand washing my handkerchiefs (main use for handkerchiefs: napkins at mealtime.  When you are eating rice curry with your hands, napkins are important -- at least to me.  Napkins seem as unknown to Sri Lankans as silverware.)

[NOTE:  A Sri Lankan expatriate took offense by the above remark.  My intention was not to disparage Sri Lankan eating habits.  That Sri Lankans have different eating habits from Europeans is a fact; whether or not one chooses to feel superior (or inferior) does not change those facts. For more on this, please see my book, "Creating a World That Works for All", where I discuss culture, eating habits and inclusivity.]

I’ve been involved in non-stop vision sessions with Sarvodaya’s leadership since my arrival on Sunday.  Day One was an all-day session with Vinya Ariyaratne, the new Executive Director of Sarvodaya and son of A.T. Ariyaratne.  (I had a very brief meeting with Ari on Sunday, before he left for a donor’s meeting in Europe.)

Yesterday and today was a day and a half session with Sarvodaya senior managers, the new management team that Vinya has put in place.  Also today, I started meeting with the District Coordinators -- that meeting will continue through tomorrow afternoon.  Then, back to headquarters.

The Sarvodaya training center here at Bandaragama, about 45 minutes ride from headquarters in Moratuwa, is a wonderful retreat facility, a really pleasant setting to conduct in-depth discussions on the future of the organization.

The War:

The main topic of all of the discussions and visioning exercises is the war.  Now that everyone understands the importance of ending the war, that economic and social  development in the context of a shooting war is impossible, we have been engaged in an analysis of the conflict and identification of practical and spiritual steps to take that will make violence impossible and peace a reality.

The Rats:

By now, most of you are familiar with my “rats in the cage” experiment. Put two rats in a large cage with adequate food and water.  The rats will co-exist peacefully.  Then, send an electric shock through the metal floor of the cage.  The rats will attack each other.  They know nothing about the forces that are causing their pain; all they know is that they are suffering and there is another rat in the cage.

Sarvodaya’s leadership is well aware that the forces that pit the Tamil and Sinhalese rats against each other are more complex than ethnicity. The history of colonialism, the oppressive living conditions of the underclass (in both groups), the erosion of the village structure, the effects of globalization and the spread of urbanization -- all these unite to make a powerful electric shock to the system.

The Solutions:

The forces of separation and violence are powerful, more powerful than simplistic solutions that we should “just love each other”.  Today I led Sarvodaya’s management in a fifty-year “future scan”, to envision the post-war future for the island.  Then, I asked them to conduct a twenty year “future scan” for Sarvodaya: how must the organization change to create the optimal post-war scenario?

Any and all solutions must serve to reduce or eliminate the electric shocks to our rats in the cage.  People can and will learn to live together and coexist.  The only question is whether they will do this before any further blood is shed.

Peace,

Sharif Abdullah
 
 
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