South Asian Youth Conference 2015

Since the roots of my participation asks for the anonymity, the email “Dear Thambaru Wijesekara, We are glad to confirm your participation!” from Namirah were my life changing words. By then tons of mails were filling up my mailbox reminding each thing to bring, what to be taken out and what would be doing like sometimes my mother telling me to do this, do that. It was much supportive because I had no idea how it would be other than my curiosity of exploring mutuality of culture, languages, music and all of south asian region. It was the 5th conference and first of mine.

I arrived to the accommodation prepared at Community Education Center, Thalaahena, Malabe (First it was meant to be Hector Kobbakaduwa Agrarian Research Center, a nice place with all facilities but unfortunately Parliament took it overriding our reservation) around 10AM on 11th Friday thinking and blaming myself that I might be the last one to the registration queue and I’ll be interrupting others being there in that late because the registration was meant to start by 9. But phew! Believe or not, I was the first delegate in town (on that day)! 😀 Few were there already from the day before by their early flights. I first met Sachintha aiya -joint chairperson and he pointed me to apartment No. 116 through Tharindu aiya -chairperson to keep my heavy backpack till the registration begins. I was sitting on a random bed and kept scrolling twitter, swarm and facebook feed to kill time and skip awkward time staying at that never known place. Suddenly, a set of guys got in to the room with their travelling bags which made me guessing those might be some delegates from another country. All of them were very friendly, said hi to me and one with a mustache came and sat on the bed facing mine and started a chit chat with me. He became my first friend from Pakistan, Mr. Sawai. Then he introduced me to his other fellows including Nadeh, Shahid and Hassan. They were unable to pronounce my name so they made it “Tammy”. 😀 They used to call by that every time they see me in the rest of days and signed off “You’re Tammy for the lifetime!”

After having Bread for breakfast along with Polsambol and Dhal, the registration has begun around 11am. Shalitha and Isharaa was in the queue with me as Sri Lankan delegates then Namirah collected our documents and assigned a room and a family number. Mine was respectively #202 (which was in 2nd floor) and 3. After finding the room my first job was choosing the best bed and searching for plug points. Yeah, we’re chained to our smartphones which is only for charging but for using. Lately Astush (an Indian with a British background who exactly talks like a European), Navindu (SL), Saleem and one other filled out other beds in the same room. Then I had lunch with Jayani akka and Harsha, who were also Sri Lankan delegates became my akka (elder sister) and podi aiya (second elder brother) by the time of days spent.

Opening Ceremony

Image courtesy: Sakuna Gamage

After all delegates from each country got in to the bus provided by Horizon Campus which was like an oven as it was about 2pm. We reached the Ministry of Disaster Management and climbed to the 4th floor with elevator. We had to wait till 3.00 or 3.30pm till the occasion starts so all of us took selfies here and there talking to new people and taking group pictures. There I met another few SL delegates including Shalitha, Chiranthi (she’s so active -‘high’ in her words- talking to everyone and being coolest all the time), JJ Savitri (from India) who exactly looks like a Chinese and led me to ask if she’s not from SA, Shailendri from media crew who’s already known on twitter and Aryan (from Afghanistan) who took snaps of us. By the beginning of occasion former president of Sri Lanka H.E. Chandrika Bandaranayaka Kumarathunga arrived and that was the first time I saw and listened to her voice in person. After few amazing dances performed by local dancing groups Founder of SAYC Mr. Abhishek Thakore announced: “SAYC 2015 begins from now!” *drumroll*

Then there was a treat including Helapa -a Sri Lankan sweet which most foreign delegates found nice- and we headed to accommodation after a chit-chat with each other. On every night after a refreshing shower and dinner we were supposed to group in with our families and share our daily experiences. First night, Mr. Abhishek got we all sitting in a circle and asked to say what we were feeling in that moment in a single word. So the answers came up like exhausted (all were tired by flight, weather etc.), disgusted (some foreign delegates weren’t satisfied of the accommodation), hot (of course, it came from a hot girl), and happy from me. Everyone laughed hearing that because it was only me saying happy. So I got another nickname: “Mr. Happy” initiated by Aryan. Then Abhishek wanted us to group into the given family number and share experiences.

In my family there was three Sri Lankans: me, Jayani, Buddika; three Indian girls: Shilpa, Saxeen, Hevah; Hassan Raza from Pakistan, Hassan Hussain from Maldives, Raj from Nepal, Aryan from Afganistan and the anchor (we called him father) Aviral from India.

We spent an awesome time singing (Saxeen was best), playing games like “January, February” and another that’s to tell what we’ve done. I won it being the one who did nothing. 😛

12th December

I’m not in that good sleeping in anywhere but my precious bed at home so I didn’t get much sleep in this first night and got up by 3am. So I ended up ablutions early and waited for the sunrise walking here and there, sitting somewhere to kill time. Shahan (Biggy, the volunteer) was up all night to check everyone’s all right and asked me if I need any balms to apply to get rid of the cold. Then Sachintha came offering me a RedBull. I was pleased with the kindness of the organizing team along with volunteers because without them nothing would survive in that nice.

When I went downstairs (~5-6am) JJ was waiting there for someone other getting up to unlock the bathroom. So I had a chat with her and went to have the bed tea myself, chose coffee everyday as it’s my favorite sip then waited in the area in front of dining room. Most days Jayani, Harsha, Buddika, Nivendra, Aruna from India, last day Rahiba from Afghanistan and Suha from Maldives came there and talked how the night went and many many things which sometimes ended up by an abstruse subject. In this day Nivendra planned to have an unconference session so he had a poster “Free Hugs” to get colored by Jayani. Meanwhile looking at my wearing and pot belly they named me after “Manthree thuma” (=councillor. Because most SL politicians looks like that.) When everyone had the breakfast we got into the bus heading Horizon Campus.

Auditorium of the campus was on 7th floor and it was like climbing Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) as there was no elevator. There we had a panel discussion on Peace, Art and Culture conducted by Prof. Jagath Weerasinghe, famous actor Dr. Saumya Liyanage, Executive Director of Sarvodaya Mr. Chaminda Rajakaruna. Three of them did an incomparable discussion and when it came to choosing one for the panel discussion I wanted Hermione’s necklace on Harry Potter series which can be used to travel through the time and be on each workshop like she did. Specially Mr. Chaminda’s subtle, independent speech on last govt. was so promising. Most SL delegates chose Dr. Saumya’s session so I followed them.

The classroom reserved for him had chairs and desks in a circle so we all sat on them like getting readied for a boring lecture but he wanted us to getup and come forward. Then he did some awesome practical activities on how to perform on camera. I think it was an allusion of how to live in the society as well. Once he asked us to hold hands with the one next to and move like dancing without a plan. From my right to left there were Shehreen from Pakistan, Hasna from Maldives, Biseka, me, Nivendra and Jayani from SL. So Biseka became my partner. It was amazing that both of us followed each other while moving without a prior setup. Few times Dr. Saumya chose me and Dushanth to get in the middle for some example performances too. In another activity he asked to look at your partner’s eyes for a while but it was very hard for no reason to be mentioned so everyone started laughing by few milliseconds. And the hardest part, he told us to touch the faces. I didn’t worry (I did!! but not in that much) of these thinking Biseka is elder than me but eventually we both found out we’re on same age. Since then she was disappeared in the conference by getting sick, cursed by me!! 😀

In unconference time I presented in Nivendra’s session which was to introduce his project convincing troubled people by writing letters. Ishara, Sajani, Harsha, Me, Nichola, Ayodhya and Shehreen were there. At the end he asked us to write a letter someone changed our life and when done we were looking at him what’s next. He asked: now call the regarding person and read out the letter. That was a nice approach. Some wanted to go outside and do, I don’t know whether they cheated or not, for me there were nothing to do because it was mom and I already did that when I left work on Colombo and came back missing her much. It was so emotional.

All foreign delegates wanted to roam in Colombo so organizers decided to take us to Odel for shopping followed by the park Diyatha Uyana. Everyone enjoyed besides buying something and came back to accommodation, tired.

13th December

Image Courtesy: LEVO

After the getting ready as usual we went back to the Horizon. Theme was Understanding gender and we had a panel discussion. It was kinda boring to me and realized at the end that I had fallen asleep all the time. It might happened because of staying late last night playing games with the family and singing with all. Then there was a session to solve a given problem and present a solution. In my group there were Bnav, JJ, Usama, Faruk, Chiranthi and Danish. After the lunch I gotta know there’s a film show by Upali Amarasinghe in the unconference time and went with Jayani (on that day she got captioned as ‘akka’-elder sister- because we both were interested of cross subjects we knew nothing. Me drama and Jayani technology. So we can share our knowledge.) and sat next to Suha from Maldives who had nice coffee eyes. Buddika, Zau, Shehreen, Simonti, Kaniz and few was in the same session. The movie was “Cairo 6,7,8” on sexual harassment.

After that we supposed to be somewhere doing sports or drawing but none of them were my preference. So I came to the ground floor and sat on a wall facing exit. After a while Chira(nthi) came back from outside saying she forgot her phone in the campus and asked me to stay there till she come back because she worried me staying there all alone. Faruk from Bangladesh also came there with empty hands. When Chira was back she asked what if we take a walk to paddy fields in front of the campus, Faruk and me like it very much and stepped to the entrance. Near the gate there were two other Bangladeshi girls: Simonti and Kaniz with the same situation. Then we planned to go to GalleFace; waited for the bus, and Ishara also joined with Shanta. We reached Battaramulla memorizing things on the movie such as asking if anyone has a knife, but Kaniz was like “You guys are making fun out of a serious issue”. We took two Tuk Tuks (we all were 7 and divided as 4-3 by head count but Chira was like 2in1 :D) directly to GalleFace. In the one I got in was Kaniz, me, Chira and Faruk on her lap talking about crushes we made on SAYC -A Tuk Tuk Secret. At Galle Face we bought Cotton Candy and sat on the marginal wall talking about issues in both Bangladesh and Sri Lanka while Shanta buying a kite. After they all went to the beach but I couldn’t make it because of my formal shoes so I guarded their stuff and we all came back to accommodation before 11pm.

14th December

We had a panel discussion on Growth, Leadership and abundance which was so important to me specially to hear from Social Entrepreneur Ms. Amanda & Founder of PickMe.lk Fatthi Mohamed. Since Cultural Night was on this day, we went to practice a presentment planned by Nivendra skipping parallel workshops at a classroom found empty by Ayodhya, Nichola and Harini.

In the unconference time we were taught to how to start a business and earn profit with a practical session. I joined where most Pakistani guys (including Nadeh, Shahid, Hassan, Fakiha, Fozia) were and they planned to have a Spa. We won the bet for the first shop and started offering massages. It was fun while learning how to manage a shop with catchy business tricks. Best part was Founder & co-Founder of Blue Ribbon Movement Abhishek and Akshat took our service and commented later of the service they had. In overall, the profit gained and the customer experience was positive on ours.

Later we went for practices again and I had some time to talk to Nipuni, she complemented of my expressions on songs. All girls wore sarees, boys on sarongs while I was the only one in trousers because the mail organizers sent had formal wear is also acceptable.

Cultural Night

Image courtesy: Sakuna Gamage

Staircase of Horizon was decorated with oil lamps, no lights so it’s like an invitation: come along this path to heaven. Lights on stage was changed to red by a trick making the surrounding curious of coming colors. Occasion was started by singing National Anthem of each country. Then a guy with a guitar gratified all by singing in few languages including Hotel California with astonishing skills. Hussan from Pakistan and Aditi from India was conducting the event. There was something called Fish Ball where we can send chits greeting to other delegates.

Presentations from Bangladesh (using Ektar and something like xylophone), India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Maldives were surpassing each other with solos, duets and groups. When it was Sri Lankan one going, everyone came front and enjoyed themselves dancing and clapping like a one family.

Later they chose best volunteer- Biggy, Mr. SAYC- an Indian, Ms. SAYC- Namirah, took group photos, selfies with loved once, danced, ate Kottu or Hoppers for dinner and came back to the accommodation missing each other already. Cut in short, it was a one hell of a night!

15th December – Closing Ceremony

In this morning I was bit late coming to the Dining area because my phone’s battery was dead. There was Suha sitting on the fence nearby pond and invited me to take a seat, then Hissan from Maldives took few pictures of us. She told me about similarity of Divehi (Language of Maldives) and Sinhala (Language of Sri Lanka), there plans for next few days of visiting an elephant orphanage as there’s no animals in Maldives (I never knew :-o).

It was so emotional from beginning of the day with the feel of valediction. Shehreen explained the instruments they played in cultural night, mentioned about a person uneducated who made nice songs just by self learned skills, named Lalon while on the way to Horizon Campus. I told her about our Martin Wickramasinghe who’s also an uneducated person lately wrote books for medical students apart from his epic fictions and about Kudaligama, the poet.

Mr. Abhishek summed up the event while there was a envelop hanging on everyone’s name where anyone can leave a note/souvenir. I left messages for few people I felt special, no idea whether they received it or not.

My overall feel

It was great taking a part of SAYC, meeting new people, discussing common issues, exploring cultures and spreading love as a one family. Also having the feel of ‘I can do something alone for the humanity’, knowing there’re lots of people who can help and unlearning lots of things were the best things I extracted from the conference. Now in each country there’s someone waiting for my visit and offer hospitality. 🙂 Isn’t it nice?

Apart from that, people’s good attitudes over what media shows about the problems in India and Pakistan, Bangladeshi racists were mirroring off what we had in past decades with Tamils. People love peace and they’re always believed in humanity. It’s not the thing we see over goggles made by some other narrow minded, selfish group and media. We all are same family boarded with country names. -I’m handful of these.

Here’re some souvenirs I received, although many thanks to everyone who gave me lovely memories.
Anything to add to the story? Please use the comment form below. I’d love to hear from you.

2 Replies to “South Asian Youth Conference 2015”

  1. Awwww 🙂 so lovely. Was reading it with much enthusiasm and didn’t even realize that I’ve come to the last bit of the writing. Good job.
    Cheers

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