Youth Leadership South Asia Summit in Sri Lanka

The Youth Leadership South Asia summit program, commonly referred to as SAYS  is a two-way student leadership exchange programme between Pittsburgh area  high school students and South Asian parties funded by the US Department of State and administered by Magee Womancare International. Every May, SAYS brings eighteen youth and three adult facilitators from South Asia to Pittsburgh and Washington D.C. for the U.S. summit and then in August, ten youth and two adult facilitators from Pittsburgh travel abroad to Nepal and Sri Lanka for the South Asia summit. 2013 marks the 4th summit through which SAYS seeks to develop and improve student delegates’ leadership and collective action in order for them to become agents of change. It engages and teaches the students to take a stake in their community.

The student’s visit to Sri Lanka was the second part of the second phase of the programme. The kids had previously been a part of the US leg of the summit and the South Asian leg too, was well underway when they landed in Sri Lanka straight from after their time in Nepal. Although clearly exhausted by a long flight and a lot of excitement and activity in Nepal the students were enthusiastic and eager to begin their time in Sri Lanka which was a good thing, as their ten day visit was packed with activities.

The 2013 SAYS Sri Lankan excursion began with a visit to the historic city of Galle where they visited the old fort, tried out traditional Sri Lankan fruits and treats at an open air market and encountered a snake charmer. If the first day was about sightseeing and having fun, the second day was about community awareness as they toured the Foundation of Goodness MCC Centre of Excellence and its various sectors before visiting the Seenigama Sports Academy where some of them joined in a game of cricket for the first time in their lives.

Environmentalist Vimukthi Weeratunga conducted an educational session with the SAYS members teaching them about the Sri Lankan rainforests, the flora and fauna they support, how they are now endangered and the ongoing process of protection and conservation. His lively and interesting presentation was both informative and eye opening.

The students also attended a day of seminars where representatives from organisations and programs such as the Rotaract Club, Sri Lanka Unites and the FoG’s own Children’s Goodness Club members spoke to them. The Rotaracters introduced their organization, its inception and spread and outlined the work they did such as the cancer run. Sri Lanka Unites (SLU) played videos of their conferences and workshops as they explained their role in bringing about understanding and reconciliation between the North and South in post-war Sri Lanka. In  a practical demonstration of how they worked to build bonds and develop communication between groups that spoke different languages and lived different lives they carried out some ice breaker activities between the SAYS students and the Children’s Goodness Club members. Finally, the five CGC clubs spoke, describing the holistic nature of the CGC program and how, through their experience with the CGC, their role in society has changed, making them more relevant and productive member of their community. They spoke with conviction about how the CGC had changed their lives, giving them opportunities to improve their academic skills, their IT skills, to get involved with drama and various forms of self-expression, helped them discover leadership through sports and finally, brought out a more spiritual and cultural side of themselves. At the end of the seminars the students got the opportunities to ask questions from the speakers and learn more about things that caught their interest.

Having already spent a day at the two main MCC projects (the MCC Centre of Excellence and the Sports Academy) the kids got a glimpse of just how big the project was, and how far and wide it reached, when they had the chance to visit many of the outlying projects and sectors of the FoG. On the itinerary was the Seenigama Diving and Training Centre, the AVIVA housing complex, the Udumulla and Rathgama Village Heartbeat Project Centres and Salon and Dress Making Patchwork enterprises which sprang up from the Women’s Enterprise and Empowerment Centre and the business owners are micro finance recipients of Foundation of Goodness.

Their last days in Sri Lanka was crammed full of excursions. The students visited moonstone mines where they witnessed the mining, cutting and production process followed by a boat excursion up the Madu river visiting cinnamon island, bat island, cultural stops and even tried out a fish foot cleaning treatment where they popped their feet in to tanks full of fish which would nibble at and clean their foot. The kids also visited a turtle hatchery/ conservation center where they saw the different types of turtles found in Sri Lankan waters and were able to see both tiny new born turtles and giant fully grown ones.

The students were also involved in various community aid and welfare programs, they planted trees, cleaned up the nearby beaches and visited a girls’ orphanage and an elders home.  The students had an amazing time at the orphanage and elders home, singing, laughing and bonding with them was a truly rewarding experience for everyone involved. They also had the opportunity to have a dinner with the North Exchange students who were in Seenigama during this time attending a residential workshop conducted by the Cartwheel Initiative during which time the kids played charades, sang and generally entertained each other well in to the night after their dinner.

When asked to look back on their time the SAYS members were all enthusiastic about their visit, and each person picked out a different activity as their favorite. The outstanding events they were most enthusiastic about were the beach cleanup and their visits to the orphanage and elders home during which time they truly got a feel of what it was like to belong to the local community.

The Foundation of Goodness is honored and delighted that we had the opportunity to host this event and meet these amazing young people who will surely go on to make a difference in world.


Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has. — Margaret Mead











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