Sri Lanka Peacemeal

Eating for Peace in Sri Lanka

Written by Harshadeva Amarathunga, a Sri Lankan peacebuilding correspondent from Insight on Conflict.

Peacebuilding is about gathering with people and working together – talking together, eating together, that’s how we can make strong bonds.

Last month I talked with a Sri Lankan peace activist. I heard a wonderful story about grassroots peace building in Sri Lanka, after the war between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The grassroots Sri Lankan peacebuilding organisation Samadeepa works with Sinhalese and Tamil people in Anuradapura, central Sri Lanka. The initiative promotes peace education and ethnic harmony between Sinhalese and Tamils.

Samadeepa invites people belonging to Sinhalese and Tamil ethnicities to a community centre to spend a couple of days together. All the participants live together, cook together and eat together during these days.

When they come to Anuradapura to participate in the event everyone brings traditional sweets or food as gifts for others. Chandrarathna Bandara, the organisation’s founder, describes one such event:

“It was a wonderful event. The people who come from Hambantota bring kevum, those from Jaffna bring wade. People coming from Anuradapura bring bananas. You know, it is not a small amount, food for 500 people. Can you imagine that they came with food as gifts for each other?

That is our culture, Sinhala and Tamil people sitting together and eating together. It was beautiful – sharing and eating. For us that is peace and love, what else?”

Peace and love for them is about sharing. Food plays a main role in terms of sharing. People wanted to meet each other. Many Tamil people from Jaffna came to Anuradapura even during conflict time, irrespective of LTTE or Sri Lankan government Army barriers: they came to see each other.

The organisation never charges any money for the participants. As Bandara says, “Peacebuilding is about gathering with people and working together – talking together, eating together, that’s how we can make strong bonds with our culture and other cultures. It means a lot as a community.”

Samadeepa believes the feeling of love can make a difference during violent conflict. Giving gifts is deep-rooted in Sri Lanka culture. Especially if the gift giving is related to food, it symbolises the elements of brotherhood and sisterhood, friendship and solidarity.

“We believe in love and justice. There is no meaning for peace without justice and also there is no meaning for love without justice. We believe that bringing those two concepts together, we need to open up our hearts. Then we can meet each other at heart level. Then again we can live together and eat together, with Tamils and Sinhalese,” adds Bandara.

 

This is an edited version of the original post, Eating for Peace, republished from the Insight on Conflict blog.

Image credit: Dhammika Heenpella

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