Healing the wounded hearts

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By 2017-09-17

By Ranga Chandrarathne

The Oblate Institute of Higher Learning (OIHL) is another new venture of the Congregation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a congregation which has contributed immensely to formal and informal education in Sri Lanka. OIHL offers a Diploma in National Reconciliation and Peacebuilding which includes theoretical knowledge and practical 'know-how' of reconciliation and peacebuilding.
Following is an excerpt of interviews with Rev. Dr. Oswald B. Firth OMI, the Director of OIHL on the Diploma in National Reconciliation and Peacebuilding and its immense relevance to nurturing a culture of peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

Q: The OIHL as an institute of Peace Studies is completing its first year of empowering the nation with its Diploma in National Reconciliation and Peacebuilding. What is the rationale behind the establishment of OIHL?

A:Volumes have been written on practically every aspect of the near thirty-year war in Sri Lanka. Its causes have been analyzed and its destructive and dehumanizing consequences have been, to some extent, fairly well documented. Nevertheless, when it comes to post-war peace-building and reconciliation at a national level the picture becomes blurred. Not everyone realises that national reconciliation and peace-building encapsulates elements that are political, social, cultural, religious and spiritual which form a cohesive and comprehensive package that guides the journey that leads to sustainable peace. There are numerous organisations that claim to be working for peace and reconciliation, some state sponsored, others supported through foreign donors. Most of them approach the subject of peace and reconciliation piece-meal and deal with the matter through a huge convention or through a seminar that runs for two to three days. While these may have their own relative values they fail to cover the entire spectrum of items and the all-inclusive process that leads to peace-building and reconciliation. This is precisely what the training programme of national reconciliation and peace-building, conducted by the Oblate Institute of Higher Learning (OIHL) has attempted to do during the past one year using some of the best resource persons on the subject.

Q. How did it come to be?

A: The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a religious order pioneering in the field of quality education in Sri Lanka, since planting its roots in this land in 1847, has been credited with the founding of some of the leading colleges in the island as well as the prestigious Aquinas University College in Colombo. This religious order is celebrating 200 years of humanitarian and spiritual service in over 67 countries around the world. To commemorate the order's 200 years' service in Sri Lanka, the leadership of the Oblates decided, after serious deliberation, that something relevant and significant to respond to the country's pressing needs should be done. The result was to initiate a programme that would contribute substantially to promoting peace and reconciliation in a post-war context in Sri Lanka. In keeping with the order's tested tradition it was decided to launch a programme of higher education that would train peace activists at a professional level to engage in government and non-state institutions promoting peace and reconciliation with the specific objective of creating a new nation where people would transcend language, religious, cultural and ethnic bias and work in harmony to foster freedom, democracy and justice in a country battered, bruised and divided by civil war. This was a tall order, but the task has been achieved.

Q: What is the relevance of OIHL in the era of post ethnic civil war in Sri Lanka?

A: Perusing through the mission statement and objectives in the Prospectus of OIHL will give one a clear understanding of OIHL's relevance in post-war Sri Lanka. As stated in its Mission Statement, OIHL is an "institute of higher learning promoting humanitarian values to serve a post-war community" through practical and professional training for men and women interested and willing to engage in peace-building and reconciliation. A considerable number of our energetic and talented youth of all races and religions sacrificed their precious lives in an unwanted war, thereby, pushing the nation's development efforts in reverse gear. With the new democratic space that was created in 2015, OIHL wishes to explore this space for innovative thinking for a new Sri Lanka where art, culture, human sciences, human rights and the religious values will play significant roles in crafting attitudinal changes in our thinking and behavioral patterns to establish a multi-cultural, multi-racial and pluri-religious tapestry for a fresh start in nation building. We are living in a sick nation. There is a great need for moral healing across the nation.

Q: What does it really offer to the Nation?

A:OIHL's is not a seminar like event which provides information on peace and reconciliation but is a one year programme scientifically designed to train peace promoters and equip them with the tools and techniques needed to engage in all aspects of national reconciliation and peace-building based on four major components: 1) Course on Conflict Transformation (comprises the history of the conflict, tools for conflict transformation, transitional justice and its four pillars, gender and peace, cultural literacy and peace, Constitution crafting, state institutions for justice – Office of Missing Persons, for National Unity and for Reparation, peace negotiations, conflict sensitivity and the 'do no harm principle'); 2) Social Engagement for Reconciliation and Peacebuilding, (entails challenges involved in peace-building, causes and consequences of conflict, role of survivors and victims, engaging in social actions for peace); 3) Psychological Counselling for Peace and Reconciliation (includes training in counselling skills, crisis management, handling trauma, 'memorialization' or the Right to Remember, professional ethics and confidentiality); 4) Inter-religious Dialogue and Cultural Integration for Peace (covers religious pluralism and global cultural diversity, the contribution of inter-religious dialogue for peace-building, religious theorisation, religion as a cause of conflict).

Q: There are number of other institutions that serve the National Reconciliation and Peacebuilding process. How does OIHL become a unique or different from all the rest?

A: Yes there are and they are all to be commended for reading the signs and needs of the time. Having said this, we wish to state that OIHL offers something unique and different in the field of national reconciliation and peace-building, and that is a scientifically designed course on peace-building professionally crafted by a team of local and foreign experts leading to a diploma certificate on the subject. The course is planned for a full year and covers the four major components of reconciliation and peace-building. The course is open to anyone who had studied up to A/L, irrespective of one's religious affiliation, ethnicity or gender. The methodology of the course includes an academic approach combined with practical engagement in peace building in the field. Students are invited to engage in group and panel discussions, audio-visual presentations, analyse case studies on real human rights violations and exposure visits to areas of conflict. The course trains peace activists to take on peace and reconciliation work at all levels whether in state institutions or centers of education. The well-crafted training programme is what distinguishes OIHL from other institutions working for peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Medical personnel, university under-graduates, NGO staff and religious men and women who followed the course have commented that their areas of humanitarian concern in their work have been widened.

If you are interested in having more information, please come and meet us at Oblate Institute of Higher Learning, 281, Deans Road, Colombo 10 or visit our website www.oihlomi.org or write an email to [email protected] or contact us 0094 77 517 6772.

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