NLF Success Stories : Centre for Human Rights and Community Development (CHRCD)

Light the Candle of Language to dispel the darkness of Ethnic Disharmony

What a vibrant and colourful celebration of Languages and Culture it was when NLF Partner CHRCD hosted its third and final Award Ceremony for Second Language Classes. The 500 Adult Language Learners who proudly received their certificates for completing the 50hr Second Language Learning Course took the total number of Second Language Learners trained in Kurunegala to 1300. The vivid extravaganza of poetry, drama, song and dance by the Language Learners showcased effectively how the Second Language Classes were promoting inter-ethnic harmony amongst the bilingual communities in Kurunegala. The Language Learning classes were carefully designed to practically equip the Sinhala and Tamil speaking communities to connect more deeply with each other. Their enhanced capacity to exchange ideas with one another, and greater appreciation for the richness and beauty of each other’s cultures, had evidently fostered a deeper sense of belonging, of being Sri Lankan.

The Second Language Classes conducted by CHRCD under the ‘Reconciliation for Learning Project’ was funded by the National Languages Fund managed by NLEAP. The Second Language Learning Courses that taught Tamil to Sinhala communities, and Sinhala to Tamil communities, were open to all people in Kurunegala who were above 18 years of age. The courses were conducted by Language Teachers trained by the National Institute of Language Training,  under the supervision of the National Language Promotion Officer of the District Secretariat, in collaboration with the Language Officers of the Divisional Secretariats.

Congratulating the Second Language Learners on their achievement Mr. Ruwan Jayasundera (Assistant District Secretary – Kurunegala) underscored the important role languages play in helping bilingual communities connect with each other.

He shared, If we go to the North we feel strange. We feel isolated. Why? It is our own country. Because they speak Tamil and we don’t know Tamil. They don’t know Sinhala. We are unable to understand each other or share each other’s pain. But we are one people.”

He continued: “To  become a wholesome people we need to know each other’s languages.”

Mr Jayasundera noted that this is why government officers are mandated to complete 150 hours of Second Language Learning.

He urged the Sinhala dominant audience to learn Tamil, ‘a language close to our hearts’.

Mr Michael Emblem (Project Director – NLEAP), sharing insights on Canada’s own experience of implementing its bilingual policy, confessed that it took Canadians a long time to learn the importance of having two national languages. But affirming the dividends Second Language Learning reaps many benefits Emblem stressed: “Language is more than communication – it is relationship building.”

Emblem urged the citizens of Kurunegala to continue developing their second language proficiency so that they could enjoy share their rich culture together with their Tamil  neighbours.

Mr Premasiri Gamage (Executive Director – CHRCD)  thanked  the Government of Canada  for empowering the people of Kurunegala to build a more inclusive community. Referencing the ethnic conflict that rocked Kurunegala in 2019 following the Easter bombs, Premasiri emphasized the urgent role both language and culture served in building national reconciliation. Asserting ‘We need both language and culture’ he reiterated ‘we need to build both in order to avoid such violence’.

Reflecting on the havoc and turmoil of 2019, he implored the Kurunegala citizens ‘Let us build a peaceful society that reflects and complements our shared humanity’. The community hall resounded in response to Premasiri’s impassioned plea ‘Let us work together to build such a society. Without cursing the darkness – let us light a candle with Language’.

Ms D.M. Samanthi (Dstrict Secretariat Officer- Kurunegala) thanked the Government of Canada, NLEAP and CHRCD on behalf of the 20 divisional secretariats that benefitted from the 3-year project funding and technical assistance extended through NLF. She said, ‘Your support to Kurunegala is immense’.

Warmly congratulating the participants for their commitment to learning a second language Samanthi urged them to grow their language competency. Stating ‘We are a small country. But look at the diversity of our people. We can rebuild this nation’ she was pragmatic in noting ‘But it will be difficult. Reconciliation, forgiveness, coexistence have become isolated as words’.

Her words challenged them ‘Nurture the knowledge you have received from these classes. Nurture your minds. Draw what is valuable in our diverse cultures. Build your society. Be a light.’

Affirming the Kurunegala citizens of their power and agency to effect a meaningful change Samanthi urged them ‘You are important. Your support is important’.

Through NLF, NLEAP supports 28 Civil Society Organisations(CSOs) like CHRCD that work closely with grassroot communities. These CSO’s work across country promoting reconciliation, understanding and connection amongst the different ethnic groups, by building awareness of language rights and promoting second language learning. The success of the CHRCD Second Language Learning Classes is a testament to how local communities can be empowered to become more inclusive and connected through Second Language Learning.

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