From May 20th to 22nd, 2024, the Youth Exchange Program, funded by AGIAMONDO, brought together young minds from Badulla and Chilaw for a transformative experience. Held at the Caritas Chilaw Conference Hall, this two-and-a-half-day residential program aimed to empower participants by enhancing their self-identity, self-esteem, and leadership skills.

The primary objectives of this initiative were multifaceted: to help youth discover their self-identity, develop a character based on spiritual values, create a vision for a better future, enhance decision-making and leadership skills, and work as peacemakers within their communities. These goals were facilitated by resource person Mr. Sudesh Rodrigo, a master trainer and development practitioner from World Vision Lanka.

Day one kicked off with participants organized into mixed groups from both regions, creating initial bonds. A session on ‘World View’ by Mr. Rodrigo encouraged participants to reflect on their beliefs, values, and perceptions. The day concluded with an exposure visit to Chilaw Cathedral and Munneshwaram Kovil, followed by a classical music session.

The second day began with a morning mass, setting a reflective and positive tone. The day’s activities included a recap of the previous day’s sessions, discussions on exploring relationships, and the role of basic human feelings in building connections. The evening allowed for relaxation and bonding at Thoduwawa Beach.

On the final day, Mr. Jayasiri led a session focused on how youth can become peacebuilders, using the framework of their worldviews. Participants engaged in group exercises to explore their identities and discuss their beliefs and values. They created vision boards to express their aspirations and shared their visions in a reflective session.

Direct observations highlighted the active engagement and leadership qualities among the youth. Participants voluntarily conducted a small beach cleanup, demonstrating their commitment to environmental stewardship.

Key action points from the program included promoting mutual understanding and teamwork across religious, cultural, and language barriers. The worldview session was particularly impactful, encouraging youth to challenge harmful cultural norms. The interactive sessions, group exercises, vision board creation, and exposure visits ensured comprehensive engagement.

Feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive. They appreciated the valuable life skills gained, recognizing them as essential tools for promoting peace and prosperity in their communities. One participant noted how the program helped him understand the practical application of leadership skills in creating peace and changing perspectives.

The program saw a diverse group of participants; 36 males and 19 females, alongside key stakeholders including Rev. Fr. Pradeep Nishantha Fernando from Caritas Badulla, and Rev. Fr. Dilan Marius from Caritas Chilaw. Program coordinators including Mr Jayasiri Premaratne, Mr Sirantha Rihan from the National Centre, Mr Clinton, Mrs Devi, and Mrs Niluka from Chilaw DC, supported by Mr Thomas Vanke – Country coordinator of AGIAMONDO and AGIAMONDO staff including Mr Ivan, Mrs Jayani, and Mr Subash.

The Youth Exchange Program not only equipped young participants with critical skills but also built lasting bonds among diverse cultural and social backgrounds, creating the way for a future generation of leaders and peacemakers.