Robinson’s artwork, which received praise from his facilitators
27-year-old Robinson, from Jaffna believes he has found his artistic voice, after just five days spent with like-minded youth from across the country. For the past week Robinson toiled to not only sharpen his creative skill, but also help organise the National Youth Symposium, together with the Centre for Peace Building and Reconciliation (CPBR) a non-profit organisation promoting non-violent conflict transformation between ethnic, racial, religious and gender groups in the island.
For Robinson, an opportunity for youth to engage in peace-building was not just something he was interested in, but something he genuinely believed in, prompting him to join the Youth for Love and Life, CPBR’s youth wing. Robinson soon learned Youth for Love and Life (YLL) would be granting him and many others in the region, the opportunity to learn and explore any aesthetic field they were passionate about.
Robinson is just one of 150 youth participating in this year’s National Youth Symposium (NYS), a gathering of over 150 diverse youth from all across Sri Lanka, at the Subodhi Institute Piliyandala, who have come together to explore the role of youth as change agents. The youth who have been engaging with YLL over the past four months are from nine different hubs, namely Baddegama, Batticialoa, Bogawanthalawa, Jaffna, Neeravaipity, Nochchiyagama, Polonnaruwa, Puthukudiyirippy and Puttalam. Together they have gone through a process of unlearning certain behaviours and norms, followed by learning of non-violent means of communication. The objective of the programme was to equip the youth all over the country, with a fundamental understanding of positive conflict transformation, conflict analysis and self-awareness, especially of their own potential and skill.
Robinson’s passion was always Art. Crafting, meanwhile, was his hobby. “Creating something makes me happy and content.” he said with a smile. He is a member of the National Crafts Council, representing Jaffna. Since joining YLL, he has also been employed by the organisation as a youth coordinator, sharing his knowledge and skill in art and craft with children and youth who are willing to learn from him. For many like Robinson, the YLL and the Symposium they helped bring to life, is a life-changing opportunity.
From November 22 to 26, the NYS saw two days dedicated to the creation of something called ‘passion productions’ by the youth themselves, guided by YLL youth facilitators and consultants. The six day gathering brought together youth who are multi-ethnic, multi religious and come from diverse backgrounds, but share a passion for music, drama, art photography and short film making.
The facilitators of the programme including Artists such as Nadeeka Guruge, Prageeth Rathnayaka and veteran dramatist Parakrama Nirella, supported them in developing their leadership skills in addition to honing their talents. This two day process was carried out by forming six passion groups made up of 2-3 youngsters from each regional hub, who share the same passion. They were housed in two locations divided by passion groups, Subodhi Institute Piliyandala and Vishva Niketan International Peace Centre in Moratuwa.
Participants said that during these two days they were able to develop a sense of community and identify a common theme for their passion productions. CPBR facilitators supported them to identify their diverse talents and to create a common production for each group, as well as to understand the purpose of this symposium.
Vivetha Gunaratnam, a participant from the Batticaloa hub said the programme was immensely helpful to those groups who have a keen interest in aesthetic subjects, but have been unable to learn or explore the field they are interested in. “This is the first time I’m attending a National Symposium. Like me, many youths have made use of these passion groups, where they have been able to learn about their passions, be it art, film-making or photography,” she said.
Based on the discussions with the resource persons, and having met their new friends from across the island, the groups decided to do multiple productions as well. The participants and artists strived to understand their areas of passion more widely and deeply, while engaging in conversations to understand each other’s lives and their diverse backgrounds, and accommodate these into their productions.
“The NYS was a platform for the youth to discover and explore their true self and capacities, as creative artist, community leaders, and initiators of true change. The six day process created a safe space for youth to break the linear thinking trail in order to bring alternative methods to express and develop their potential as the future generation change makers and creators. They will also be able to build relationships and networks with a large group of people that bring diverse ideas, techniques, cultures and skills that will act as a starting point to their own development,” organisers said.
The final day of the programme was dedicated to the exhibition and performance of the participants’ passion productions, created under the themes of ‘Diversity and Inter-dependency’, ‘Earth and Us’ and ‘Humanness and Humans’.
Robinson proudly pointed towards a hallway where the participants’s visual art creations were exhibited. “This is my modern art creation,” he said, gesturing towards to a mixed media artwork. Crafting was simply a hobby for Robinson. But after attending the national youth symposium, he has renewed faith in his own talent. “Prageeth Rathnayaka was our facilitator. Over the past couple of days, we learned a great deal from him. We learned how to build a concept and how to build from that point onwards,” he said.
Robinson is a self-taught artist. He is also a member of the National Crafts Council. Although he has travelled and worked with fellow crafters in his region, it is the first time, he is exploring his potential as an artist, Robinson said. “It’s been a pleasure to work with so many young people from different regions in the country. For me, it was also a great opportunity to see individual talents and identities,” he shared.
Robinson has received praise for his creations exhibited at the symposium. He is especially happy about the fact that his facilitator commended his project, noting his professional skill. Asked if language was a barrier, to communicate with his new friends and facilitators, Robinson said with a smile. “I can manage to speak a few Sinhala words. So communicating wasn’t a big issue. After all, there is no language for love,” he said.