Once divided, two Sri Lankan alumni make peace
Raveendra Pathiranage (kneeling, left) and Thevananth Thevanayagam
The first encounters between two classmates in the Rotary Peace and Conflict Studies program were anything but cordial.
From July through September 2006, Raveendra Pathiranage and Thevananth Thevanayagam participated in the program’s inaugural session at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. For weeks, they argued about the long-standing conflict in their native Sri Lanka.
“But we talked about our problems and gradually understood each other,” says Thevanayagam, program manager for the Tamil Refugees Rehabilitation Organization in Sri Lanka, who was sponsored by the Rotary Club of Jaffna, Northern Province. The agency provides food, shelter, rehabilitation, and other assistance to displaced Tamil refugees.
“We erased the hard feelings and went on to What can we do to solve the problem? What can we contribute?” says Pathiranage, senior state counsel in the attorney general’s office in Sri Lanka, who was sponsored by District 3220.
He was especially moved by Thevanayagam’s stories of children who had been orphaned or couldn’t go to school. In November, when conflict forced the main road into the Jaffna peninsula to close, Pathiranage asked, “Theva, can I do anything?”
Thevanayagam explained that the region was barely surviving on twice-monthly dry rations and many people, including his two young children and the rest of his family, were suffering from Chikungunya, a disease that causes high fevers, rashes, and joint pain. Pathiranage used some of his personal connections to get a month’s supply of dry milk and medicine to Thevanayagam for his family.
In June, the two men traveled together to the first Rotary World Peace Symposium in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, held just before the 2007 RI Convention, to see their former classmates.
“The link between myself and Theva will be very important in the future to discuss the peace-related issues [in Sri Lanka],” says Pathiranage, who sees a direct connection between what he learned in the Rotary Peace and Conflict Studies program and his work.