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Re: [justpeaceinasia] Sri Lanka Trip

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  • nhek sophearith
    Dear Max Sorry for late reply to you , i just inform you that you cannecl your meeting in Cambodia ,that s good that host victim they re wanted to hold there .
    Message 1 of 2 , Apr 20, 2005
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      Dear Max
      Sorry for late reply to you , i just inform you that you cannecl your meeting in Cambodia ,that's good that host victim they're wanted to hold there . so i wish you get sucessful with your meeting there and all friends too. i hope i can see you in cambodia again
       Take care
      Warm regards ,Phearith

      max <maxediger@...> wrote:

      March 15 � 29, 2005

      max ediger

      From March 15 to 29th, I had the privilege of visiting Sri Lanka with
      the invitation of the Consortium of Islamic Rehabilitation
      Organizations (CIRO).  Although the idea for forming such a
      consortium was long in the minds of some people from the eastern
      region of Sri Lanka, the December tsunami that devastated much of the
      coastal area was the impetus needed to help make CIRO a reality.

      CIRO is, in fact, an interfaith group with about twenty local
      organizations now members.  Other organizations have applied to join
      and it is quite certain that the number will increase.  While the
      name includes the word "Islamic", this does not mean that all member
      organizations represent only the Muslim community.  People and
      organizations of other faiths are active participants in the

      The aim of CIRO is to "�empower the different ethnic communities in
      the North and East through people participation, work for their
      development, build peace and harmony among them and envision co-
      existence with all Sri Lankan communities through peoples forums,
      dialogues, sharing past historical experiences, values of social
      cohesion and resources, based on understanding common religious
      cultural ,social principles and practices, show mutual respect to
      religious and ethnic groups and face the human and natural challenges
      with unity."  It is this commitment to both interfaith cooperation
      and justpeace that attracted me to CIRO and their activities.  You
      can read more about their aim and their activities at

      I was ably guided through these two weeks by an old friend, Kingsley
      Perera, who is helping coordinate the activities of CIRO.  These
      activities will focus on helping victims of the civil war and the
      tsunami come together in interfaith/interethnic communities to find
      ways of cooperatively building new communities of justice and peace. 

      Our travels took us to Puttalam, several hours drive north of Colombo
      and then across Sri Lanka to the east coast where we visited
      communities to the north and south of Batticoloa.  Several areas we
      were to visit were inaccessible because roads have yet to be
      repaired.  As a guide, Kingsley Perera proved to be an excellent
      source of knowledge on Sri Lanka including its history, culture,
      religious faiths, traditions, archeological sights and its vast array
      of healing plants.  I offer him my thanks for all the time and effort
      he put into this trip and also to all of the others who helped
      facilitate travel and learning.  I especially would like to thank the
      family of Mr. S.M. Izzadeen who opened their home to us during our
      stay on the east coast providing us with a wonderful place to rest,
      discuss and re-energize.

      Following is a brief summary of the aspects of the trip that relate
      specifically to the work of the Interfaith Cooperation Forum.

      1.      Colombo

      While in Colombo I was able to make contact with a variety of people
      who are working on issues related to interfaith cooperation and
      dialogue.  All expressed interest in knowing more about ICP and I
      will be sending them additional information.  The time for visiting
      with these excellent people was very limited, so there was not
      sufficient opportunity to discuss interfaith issues with them in
      detail.  My contacts included:

      a.      Fr. Tissa Balasuriya - Father Tissa Balasuriya is a member of
      a religious order, like the Benedictines, and the Franciscans.
      Numerically, the largest religious order of priests in the country
      are the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), and this is the
      congregation to which Father Tissa Balasuriya belongs.  He was
      excommunicated from the church in 1997 because some of his writings
      raised issues of faith that were too uncomfortable for the church
      leadership.  In 1998 a compromise was reached and the excommunication
      was lifted.

      b.      Fr. Reid Shelton Fernando � Fr. Reid is director of People
      Against Torture.  I spoke with him only briefly on the phone as it
      was Holy Week and he was very busy with the church schedule.  He
      expressed interest in knowing more about ICF and in meeting in the
      future should the opportunity arise.

      c.      Chitral Perera � Mr. Perera is secretary of Janasansadaya, an
      organization affiliated to Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).  We
      were only able to speak briefly on the phone but I hope to follow-up
      with him via email later.

      d.      Mr. Basheer Segudawood � Mr. Basheer is a Member of
      Parliament and Chairman of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress.  He was
      most helpful in making arrangements for our trip and very much
      committed to justpeace in Sri Lanka.

      e.      Fr. Richard A. Dias � Centre for Society & Religion

      f.      Library of the Centre for Society & Religion � Like so many
      other documentation centers, the library is suffering from a lack of
      funding.  They were keenly interested in receiving documents from ICF
      and related organizations.  I will send them our books and some other
      materials and request that they send us some of their newer materials
      when possible.  I did purchase some books from their book store. 
      (see attached book list)

      g.      The Ecumenical Institute for Study and Dialogue � The
      director of this center, Aloysius Pieris s.j. was not in country when
      we visited, so I browsed through their bookstore and purchased some
      valuable books for our resource center.  (see attached book list)

      During these visits I collected fourteen (14) books for our resource
      center.  Most of the books deal with Christian/Buddhist dialogue. 
      The complete list of the books is attached at the end of this report.

      2.      Interfaith Cooperation in Sri Lanka

      Udappuwa is a small coastal village to the south of Puttalam at the
      bottom of Mundal Lagoon.  It was not affected by the tsunami, but has
      suffered heavily because of large prawn farms that have destroyed
      much of the mangrove swamps which once provided the villagers with an
      abundance of food.  The prawn tanks were recently abandoned because
      of a disease that began killing off the prawns.  The owner of the
      prawn tanks, which cover a large area of land around the village,
      made not attempt at clean-up so the chemicals used in prawn farming
      still pollute the land including some of the water wells the people
      depend on.  As of now, no mangrove trees have started growing in the
      abandoned prawn tanks.

      In this village, Tamil and Sinhalese people live side by side as do
      Catholics, Muslims and Hindus.  In fact, the Hindu Temple, Muslim
      Mosque and Catholic Church are all just a stone's throw from each
      other.  Both ethnic and religious festivals and celebrations are
      attended by all the villagers regardless of ethnic or religious
      background.  There is much cooperation and good will.  Religious and
      ethnic violence, which has rocked much of the country over the years
      has had little affect on the people here.  According to my host, the
      people protect each other and do not let violence enter their area.

      In Udappuwa, interfaith cooperation is a natural interaction of the
      people and it probably works because there is mutual respect for each
      others traditions and beliefs.  Here, as in other areas of Sri Lanka,
      there is often intermarriage between Hindu, Christian and Muslim. 
      This seems to cause little trouble except for the fundamentalists of
      each religious group.  This is interfaith cooperation in its most
      authentic and richest form.  Perhaps one of the most important tasks
      of the ICF is to identify these organic examples of interfaith
      cooperation/dialogue in different countries of Asia, help them
      connect with each other, support them in the ways they desire, learn
      from them and pass their wisdom and courage on to the broader
      community.  I do not doubt that similar communities exist all over
      Sri Lanka as well as Asia in general.  These communities are a
      tremendous powerbase for transformation of the violence that now
      threatens our world.

      3.      Tourism

      Tourism in Sri Lanka was seriously damaged by the tsunami as well as
      by the civil war.  Arugum Bay, once an important tourist center for
      wind surfing and other sea sports, now is a pile of rubble.  A few
      places have reopened, but there are few tourists to serve. 

      Further south at Kalkudah, the civil war and the tsunami have also
      brought much devastation.  The shells of two large hotels which once
      graced this most beautiful beach in Sri Lanka, now stand as monuments
      to war and its waste.  A bit further up the beach little remains of a
      local tourist resort that once sat proudly on a small peninsula
      jutting out into the sea.  The wave completely washed over this
      peninsula, carrying away all the bungalows, small cafes and people. 
      The army base next to the resort also disappeared under the waves
      with great loss of life.

      Tourism is certainly an important part of the local economy. 
      Unfortunately tourism, as developed in the past, brings little to the
      local people.  CIRO is very much interested in introducing community
      and/or reconstruction tourism where tourists stay with local
      families, helping them rebuild and learning of the real life of the
      coastal people.

      Indeed, tourism can be a form of interfaith dialogue as well if done
      creatively.  For example, community and/or reconstruction tourism
      could bring American tourist into these Muslim communities where they
      would live in the homes of the local people.  Here they could
      experience the warm hospitality and friendship of the people and
      slowly break down the walls established by stereotypes developed from
      watching news and reading biased reports.  This is a form of tourism
      that places the benefits of tourism, both financial and social, in
      the hands of the local people.

      I urged CIRO to get in touch with ECOT (Ecumenical Coalition on
      Tourism) which can provide them with much information and
      encouragement in developing a new kind of tourism that can help
      construct communities of justpeace.

      4.      War refugees

      In Puttalam, several hours north of Colombo, we observed a camp of
      refugees from Jaffna.  The people have lived in this camp for about
      15 years already.  Why, asked my hosts, is there no international
      concern on this issue?  It is as though these people have been
      forgotten.  Living in a refugee camp for 15 years is not
      psychological or emotionally good.  What problems are developing
      here?  It is a further stress on the people to know that millions of
      dollars have been collected for refugees from the tsunami, but they
      will probably still receive no help.

      In Ruby Wohideen Village (I'm unsure of the spelling) on the east
      coast we visited a group of 20 families who also fled from Jaffna. 
      Some years back a housing project was started to provide them with a
      good roof over their heads, but a change in the government ended the
      project.  So now they live among the incomplete rooms, trying to
      survive on the little they can earn as daily laborers.  For water,
      they dig holes in the sandy soil.  Luckily water is not deep, but the
      sand quickly fills the holes back up.  With hardly sufficient water
      for cooking, people rarely take a bath.  It is an extremely unhealthy
      situation, especially for the children.  Sadly, it only takes about
      US$150 to put in one solid well.  But there is no money for this kind
      of assistance to war refugees. 

      One of the women in this village managed somehow to get a sewing
      machine.  With the little she has been able to earn and save, she has
      put in a cement well and now her house is surrounded by a small
      garden of growing fruit trees, vegetables and flowers.  "Give each of
      the women a sewing machine," she told me.  "I'll train them and soon
      they can also improve their lives."  

      As we drove through the countryside, we saw many abandoned rice
      fields that sometimes stretched on for miles.  Most of these fields
      belong to Muslim villages.  If they could return and begin farming
      again, the area would quickly become very productive.  Some people
      have come back, but the assistance they need to reopen their lands
      never comes.  They live in tents on the hot boiling land with little
      water or food.

      My hosts constantly reminded me that any work with the tsunami
      victims must also take into consideration the civil war and the
      victims of that war.  Work must be comprehensive so that communities
      of peace can be built which have the potential of lasting into the

      5.      Tsunami Issues

      While there are some NGOs and INGOs working along the east coast,
      many areas here still seem to be without any assistance.  Malighekadu
      Village looks as though very little cleanup has been done even after
      three months.  The villagers are still poking through the rubble
      looking for household goods they can salvage or stacking unbroken
      bricks that can be used later when rebuilding is possible.  The
      mosque was heavily destroyed when the wave hit and there is work
      being done to rebuild it.  Faith has been an important part of
      helping keep people going.  One man told us he lost twenty two
      members of his extended family including his wife and most of his
      children.  As we were leaving he said, "The tsunami was sent by God
      so we must accept it."

      I often heard complaints that the local people themselves were not
      allowed much participation in deciding what kind of aid was needed
      and how it was to be given.  CIRO wants to design an involvement that
      will work directly with the people in planning and implementing
      reconstruction.  They see this as an important part of the process of
      building communities of peace and justice. 

      In another village we stopped briefly at a small religious school set
      under some palm trees and facing the ocean.  When the wave hit, 40
      small children were in the school reciting the Koran.  Only the
      bodies of one child and the teacher were ever found.  Villagers were
      quietly working to rebuild the school.  There's too much sadness in
      these places.  People are trying hard to rebuild, but their lives
      have been damaged terrible by this tragedy.  Now, more than ever,
      they need to be treated with respect rather than as objects of
      sympathy.  They need to be brought into all the planning and decision
      making about the future. 

      The coordinator of CIRO stressed several times that it is crucial to
      change refugee communities into learning communities.  This is the
      time to provide the people with learning experiences so they can
      develop the skills needed to build new communities that are inclusive
      (interethnic and interfaith), peaceful and rooted in local customs
      and traditions.  Development should grow out of their experiences and
      felt needs rather than always be imported from outside.  Appropriate
      education helps build pride, confidence and unity.  This must be the
      goal of development work in Sri Lanka.

      Funding is a further problem.  While huge amounts of money have been
      collected internationally for tsunami rehabilitation, much of the
      money is earmarked for specific things which may not reflect the felt
      needs of the people themselves.  Newer and smaller organizations like
      CIRO have a very difficult time finding funding because international
      funding agencies tend to work through larger and older local NGOs. 
      Often the smaller and newer local groups have a more progressive and
      inclusive strategy for working with the people but can not easily
      compete for the money that is available.  This issue needs to be
      raised as it is also an issue that concerns the building of
      communities of peace and justice.

      6.      Visit with the Sufi Imam

      I had the privilege of spending an evening with the cleric of the
      Sufi sect Abdur Rauf Mowlavi.  The Sufi Mosque is in Kattankudy, a
      large Muslim town near Batticaloa.  He explained some of the complex
      theology of the Sufi group.  He also shared two short stories that
      seem to articulate some of the concepts the Sufi adherents are to
      live by.

      A tree said to a saint, "Be like me.  People throw rocks at me, but
      in return I give them fruit."

      The earth said to a saint, "Be like me.  People, both good and bad,
      walk over me, but I don't open up and swallow the bad.  I let all
      walk freely."

      7.      Book List

      1.      Studies in the Philosophy and Liberature of Pali Adhidhammika
      Buddhistm by Aloysius Pieris, s.j.
      2.      We Have Won, Two Successful Struggles of Women for Land and
      Homes, by Prarthana Gama Arachchige
      3.      The Prophetic Voices of Asia, Part 1 and 2, published by the
      Centre for Society & Religion, Colombo Sri Lanka
      4.      Woman and Man in Buddhism and Christianity, published by The
      Ecumenical Institute for Study & Dialogue
      5.      Millenniarism and Apocalyptism in Buddhist & Christianity �
      Democratic Impulses in the Tripitaka & the Bible, published by The
      Ecumenical Institute for Study & Dialogue
      6.      Buddhism in the Face of Intolerance and Violence � Religion
      in a Situation of Armed Conflict, published by The Ecumenical
      Institute for Study & Dialogue
      7.      War and Peace � Violence and Reconciliation in Religion and
      Society, published by The Ecumenical Institute for Study & Dialogue
      8.      The Problem of the Self in Buddhism and Christianity, by Lynn
      A. de Silva
      9.      Harvest Dreams of F;r. Mike Coming to Fruition, by Sr.
      Milburga Fernando
      10.      Beyond Ethnic Conflict�?, published by the Centre for Society
      & Religion
      11.      In Spirit and In Truth � An exploration of Buddhist/Christian
      & East/West Crosscurrents, by Mervyn Fernando
      12.      Buddhism Beliefs and Practices in Sri Lanka, by Lynn de Silva
      13.      A Time-Bound Cavalcade of Contemporary Issues � A collection
      of Editorials Written for Social Justice, the Centre for Society &
      Religion Monthly Journal,  edited by Dr. Oswald B. Firth
      14.      The Outsider, by Jean Arasanayagam

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