The 40 leaders – from the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Islamic faiths – previously visited with 11 of their counterparts in the western Sri Lankan city of Galle for four days as part of the Sarvodaya Shanti Sena CC’s Inter-Religious Cooperation for Community Development and Social Empowerment project.
The year-long program, sponsored by the Amherst, Massachusetts-based Karuna Center for Peace Building through a grant from USAID, is intended to help establish peace throughout Sri Lanka by providing opportunities for 80 religious leaders to interact with each other.
The program’s first four-day exchange included 11 Buddhist leaders, 10 Christians, 10 Hindus and 9 Muslims from the eastern districts of Batticola, Trincomalee and Padaviya, who met with Fr. Nihal Nanayakkara and 10 other religious leaders from Galle in an event hosted by the Galle Interfaith Peace Foundation.
As part of the exchange, the Eastern religious leaders took part in a sramadana or “gift of labor” program, painting the walls of a school in which children from many religious traditions study together. The Sarvodaya Shanti Sena CC is currently organizing a second exchange – in which leaders from the three Eastern districts will host a delegation from Galle – to take place in May.
In addition to its gatherings of religious leaders, Sarvodaya Shanti Sena has provided both inter- and intrafaith workshops, community dialogues and development projects and classes – such as small scale industrial training and instruction in the Singhala Tamil language – as part of its Inter-Religious Cooperation program.
The group, which focuses on ending violence through youth leadership, is also currently taking part in Amity Camps, peace dialogues, district-to-district youth exchanges and pen pal programs. The Cooperation Circle is based in a network of more than 1,500 villages throughout Sri Lanka.